Paula Doughty and Cid Dyjak boast a combined 78 years of varsity coaching experience at their respective high schools.
As two of the state’s most successful coaches, they know what it’s like to win and lose state championship games and they have dealt with every type of situation imaginable.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The Maine Principals’ Association canceled the spring season, then worked with the state to offer fall sports.
Field hockey and soccer teams had their seasons cut from 14 games to 10, with no regional playoffs or state championships to pursue. And there are a long list of safety protocols in place, including wearing face coverings and social distancing.
Doughty has coached the Skowhegan field hockey team to 19 state Class A championships in 40 years, including 16 over the last 19 seasons.
“We went into it with the attitude that we were going to make the most of the situation and I think we have. We have turned it into something special,” said Doughty, who is a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
She is the only field hockey coach in Maine history to have racked up more than 500 victories.
“People don’t realize how down in the dumps these kids were [until a fall season was approved]. But they are super appreciative of the opportunity and they are much healthier than when they started. This has been wonderful for them.”
Dyjak is in his 38th year coaching girls soccer at Orono. He has led the Red Riots to two Class C state championships and five regional titles in the last 12 seasons.
His teams have won more than 300 games.
“Back in July, I noticed the kids were really craving social interaction. They were really appreciative for the opportunity to be together,” Dyjak said.
“They like being on a team, competing, hanging out together and having fun,” he added.
It took the extreme of having no sports for the importance of the activities to be realized.
“When my kids got back to school in September, they were like zombies. It was weird,” Doughty said.
“But they’re healthy now [mentally].”
Doughty admits there is frustration at being denied the chance to compete for a 20th consecutive trip to the state championship game this fall. She said her players haven’t complained at all.
“They are so thankful to have a season. And they said they wanted to go undefeated,” Doughty said.
Skowhegan is 7-0 with three games remaining amid what she called its toughest schedule ever. It involves two games apiece against Winslow, Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield, Messalonskee of Oakland and Cony of Augusta — four schools that have won a state championship.
Dyjak praised the way his players have abided by the health guidelines and handled the unprecedented situation.
“What has made this year special for me is the way the athletes have approached the game and how hard they have trained,” he said.
“It has been delightful for me to watch. It has been so gratifying. They have been so hungry to play and so receptive to coaching,” Dyjak added.
Doughty and Dyjak said their coaching styles haven’t changed. They play to win every game.
“That’s what the girls want. You want to be the best you can be,” said Dyjak, whose Red Riots are 8-1.
There have been obstacles to overcome. Neither team can have the whole squad in the locker room or practice in the gym on a rainy day due to COVID-19 indoor gathering restrictions.
“You have to do what you are told. That’s the way it is in life,” Doughty said. “I don’t like practicing in the rain but that’s what we have to do. Learning what you have to do isn’t a bad thing.”
Dyjak said he has learned to not be so hard on himself.
“I think I have misled myself. I still have high expectations and challenge myself to improve as a coach,” he said. “But they have done everything I have asked of them and more. So I just need to relax.”