AUGUSTA, Maine — Bill Cohen admitted that the only “lie or half-lie” he has told occurred when he was 8.
“I exaggerated my age to get into the [Bangor YMCA]. You had to be 9. So I got in there, and I lived there,” said Cohen. “That’s where I learned to play basketball.”
John Coombs and John Wise were two of his early influences at the YMCA.
Cohen, who was one of 10 inductees into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame at the Augusta Civic Center Sunday afternoon, went on to become a basketball star at Bangor High and Bowdoin College before launching a law career and remarkable political career.
The former Maine senator, who was a Republican, was appointed as Secretary of Defense by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Following Cohen’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech, a videotape message from Clinton was shown to the 750 attendees. Clinton said the work ethic and lessons Cohen learned from growing up in Maine and being an athlete were valuable in his political career.
“It all started with a two-handed set shot,” said Clinton.
Cohen, like the other inductees, said lessons learned as an athlete are important in overall development.
“You’ve got to have discipline yourself. It’s a lot of hard work,” said Cohen. “You have to prepare yourself. You have to practice. There are rules that have to be followed. Referees will call fouls if you violate the rules,” said Cohen, a former mayor of Bangor before becoming a U.S. congressman and senator. “There’s the joy of winning. There’s the sadness when you lose.
“But they are all the emotions you’ll come to know during your lifetime. They apply to every facet of your life. So everything I’ve applied in sports I’ve applied to every facet of my life. It’s a great foundation.”
He said his parents used to take him to Bangor High School basketball games at the old Bangor Auditorium where he would idolize players like Danny Drinon and aspire to follow in their footsteps.
Four of Sunday’s inductees stamped their tickets into the Hall as legendary coaches, including three who are still coaching.
Skowhegan field hockey coach Paula Doughty, a two-time national high school coach of the year, has won 14 State Class A championships including 11 over the last 12 seasons; Cheverus High School of Portland football coach John Wolfgram has guided four schools (Madison High, Gardiner, South Portland and Cheverus) to 10 football state championships, and he owns the state’s two longest winning streaks in Class A at 34 (Cheverus) and 31 (South Portland); Gary Fifield has a 628-115 record as the women’s basketball coach at the University of Southern Maine and former Cony High of Augusta coach and current Cony AD Paul Vachon led his Rams to seven state Class A championships and posted a record of 451-40.
Another inductee was Newburgh’s Ricky Craven, one of 22 race car drivers who has won in all three of NASCAR’s major series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck. Craven is currently an ESPN NASCAR analyst.
Also inducted were former University of Maine two-way football standout and American Football League quarterback Manch Wheeler; Robert Russo, the owner of the Portland Boxing Club and 2008 USA Boxing/New England Coach of the Year; former Mr. World AAU Body Building champion John Robinson and Doug Brown, the former medical consultant/physician for the United States national soccer teams including the 1999 Women’s World Cup champion team.
Wolfgram said there are several keys to being a successful coach.
“You’ve got to love working with kids,” said Wolfgram. “You have to have certain philosophy you believe in. There are a lot of different philosophies. Your philosophy has to work and if it works, you can get the kids to buy into it.
“You also have to adjust to the times,” he said. “Keep common values that you believe in, but adjust with the times.”
He also said you have to “highlight your best athletes and let them win for you,” play physical football on both sides of the ball and focus on fundamentals.
Wolfgram called his fellow inductees “a remarkable group” and said they cover a “huge spectrum” of the sports world from a race car driver to a Mr. World.
During his speech, Vachon was overwhelmed by emotion and wept on several occasions as he reflected on his career, thanked players, assistants, administrators and his family members as well as the Hall. And he elated with having the ceremony in his home city, which he called a “great city.”
He also earned a huge laugh from the audience when he talked about how his mother-in-law, Pat, thought he should have continued working for Central Maine Power rather than becoming a coach.
“CMP doesn’t have a Hall of Fame, Pat,” he quipped.
Craven said he has had a “great life” and also got a big laugh when he corrected an error.
He was seriously injured when he hit the wall during qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway and was airlifted to a Dallas hospital.
“My wife (K.K.) was six months old,” began Craven who quickly corrected himself.
“My wife was six months pregnant,” said Craven before quickly adlibbing, “You’ve got to understand I hit some concrete walls during my career.”
Craven, like many of the other inductees, paid homage to his spouse for running the family while he was living out his dream.
“She is an amazing mother,” said Craven who also said his mother Nancy’s own determination and willingness to embrace challenges rubbed off on him.,
“She has beaten cancer twice. Her attitude was ‘C’mon, bring it on,’” he said.
Brown thanked former Colby College, University of Maine and Husson University baseball coach John Winkin for the life lessons he learned from him when he coached his Waterville American Legion team pertaining to dedication, preparation and mental attitude..
Winkin was in attendance with son, David.
“He said I believe in you,” said Brown.
Craven said it was a memorable night.
“It was as enjoyable experience as I’ve ever had,” said Craven who added that he cherished getting to know the other inductees as well as Hall President Dick Whitmore.
Whitmore, who wore a Tide hat representing Craven’s primary sponsor at one time before introducing him, turned in an exceptional performance as the emcee, interspersing humor and a healthy knowledge of each of the inductees.
Five high school student-athletes received $5,000 scholarships from the Hall for their athletic and academic achievements and community involvement: Waterville High’s Georgia Bolduc, John Bapst of Bangor’s Adrienne Carmack, Falmouth’s Caitlin Buckbaum, Leavitt High of Turner’s Madeline Wiegman and Forest Hills of Jackman’s Evan Worster.
Richard Austin received a distinguished achievement award.