BANGOR, Maine — Bob Kelley’s name is synonymous with the Bangor High School baseball program, which he helped build into a perennial winner for more than three decades.
On Wednesday, the man who was a fixture as a teacher and coach in Bangor schools for 42 years was recognized for his longtime contributions.
With numerous former co-workers, students and players in attendance, the gymnasium at the James F. Doughty Middle School was named in honor of Kelley during a ceremony at the Doughty School on Fifth Street.
“The Bangor School Department is so fortunate to have had Robert Kelley as a member of our excellent team of teachers and coaches,” Superintendent of Schools Betsy Webb said in a press release. “He has been a positive influence on many of our students and staff members for over four decades and we’re pleased to be able to honor his service in this way.”
Among those who were expected to attend the event was Matt Kinney, a former student and Bangor High baseball player who holds Kelley in high regard.
“He was always very positive. He seemed to know the right things to say,” said Kinney, who went on to pitch in the major leagues.
“I’ve run into a lot of people over the years, from my dad’s generation to mine, and I’ve never heard anybody say a bad thing about him. That’s amazing,” Kinney added.
Kelley, a Bangor native, starting teaching phys ed at the former Fifth Street Junior High in 1958. He remained there for 29 years, then finished out his career at Bangor High School (1987-2000).
Kelley had a small office located next to the boys’ locker room in the basement of the junior high building. However, it was in the gym and on the adjacent fields that he enthusiastically imparted his knowledge of recreation and sports.
Jeff Fahey, who first had Kelley as a physical education teacher, then as a coach, later worked with the Maine Sports Hall of Fame member at Bangor High before replacing him as the baseball coach in 2001.
“I think his greatest legacy is Bangor baseball in general, a love of baseball,” said Fahey, who appreciated Kelley’s approach to working with young people.
“He was very straightforward. No one had to guess about where they stood with him, that’s for sure.”
Bangor native Bill Green joked that when Kelley took the Bangor baseball position in 1969, he only selected three players from the east side of town. The other 15 had attended Fifth Street.
During his years playing for Kelley, Green learned to appreciate and respect the man for his approach to the game.
“I think Kel really made the game a lot of fun and through fundamentals built a program that was a real winner,” said Green, who captained the Rams’ 1971 Class A state championship team.
“I was definitely trying to please him every second I was around the baseball field,” he added.
Kelley’s Bangor teams were known for their consistent execution of the fundamentals. Former Brewer coach Dennis Kiah saw that from across the diamond.
“All of his teams were very well prepared and very competitive,” Kiah said. “They worked very hard on fundamentals and doing it the right way.”
Yet it is the way Kelley influenced the lives of so many young people over the years that has earned him so much respect.
“He touched the lives of countless kids in more than just baseball,” Kiah said.
“He had the right demeanor. He knew how to get kids to give more than they knew they had. He made them believe in each other,” he added.
Green, another Maine Sports Hall of Famer who is the TV host of “Bill Green’s Maine,” has stayed in touch with Kelley.
“I think of him as a close friend,” Green said. “He’s a great sports fan, a great sports man. I love to talk sport with him. I think the world of him.”
Kinney, who recently completed his first season as the head baseball coach at Hermon High School, said he was greatly influenced by Kelley.
“I think the experience I had in high school was what made me want to be a coach when I was done playing,” Kinney said.
“He seemed to genuinely care about all his players.”