Wednesday, March 3, 2004
In early December, Winslow High School girls basketball coach Jim Poulin came home worn down from a preseason practice. At that point, he told his wife, Diane, that he would have to stop coaching after this season.
This was a familiar conversation for the couple after Poulin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. Diane, knowing Jim's desire to keep coaching, would always remind him of that and urge him to stay on the job.
This time, the conversation was different, with Diane agreeing with Jim that he needed to step down. After guiding the Black Raiders to a 14-5 record this season, Poulin made it official recently, giving up the head coaching job after nine seasons coaching the girls varsity and 30 years of coaching basketball at Winslow.
"The fact is that physically I'm really challenged right now," Poulin, 54, said. "A lot of times, by five or six o'clock in the evening, I'm exhausted. It's just getting harder and harder to do this."
The MS has extracted a heavy toll on Poulin's health, as he has difficulty standing and walking. In recent years, he has stayed in his chair during basketball games, and coached from a golf cart at football games and practices. Still, according to Winslow athletic director Sean Keenan, Poulin's love for the school and sports never wavered. Poulin has been teaching at Winslow since 1973.
"Jimmy Poulin is a class act," Keenan said. "I don't think you can accurately describe in words what he's meant to me and to other people he's worked with. He has put his heart and soul into his family and this community."
Since being diagnosed with MS more than eight years ago, Poulin has constantly expressed his wish to keep coaching as long he was physically able and not seen as a burden to the program. While he wants to coach the varsity next season, joking that, "I have no hobbies. I have no life," he eventually realized this would have to be his final season.
"My mind was saying, 'No matter what happens to you physically, you can keep coaching. You can overcome anything,' " Poulin said. "The realization is that you can overcome a lot, but there are truly limitations."
Poulin also said he wanted to ensure that the incoming coach would have enough returning talent to keep Winslow as a solid contender in Class B. Winslow did not have a senior on its roster this season, when it lost to Caribou High School in the Eastern B quarterfinals.
"Jimmy is never one who's going to leave the cupboard bare," Keenan said. "That's just not his personality. He's not one to back away from a challenge."
"I'm not going to stay forever, and to leave the cupboard bare wouldn't be fair," Poulin said. "In my humble opinion, the cupboard is not bare. The cupboard is loaded. The well is not only full, the well is overflowing."
Poulin began coaching basketball at the boys JV level in 1974, moving up to the varsity level for two seasons in 1985-87. He stepped down from that position after a hiking trip at Mt. Katahdin in 1987 with longtime Winslow coach Wally LaFountain. Poulin asked LaFountain several times if there was anything he would have done differently, and LaFountain answered that he would have spent more time with his family.
By the time the group has descended the mountain, Poulin had decided to resign as boys varsity coach to take over the job of girls eighth-grade coach, eventually giving him the opportunity to coach his two daughters, Jenny and Heather.
"My two girls needed a dad more than they needed the boys varsity coach at my home," Poulin said.
But Poulin's first coaching job at Winslow was in the fall of 1974, when he began coaching with the freshmen football team. Poulin plans to stay on in his role as defensive coordinator under varsity coach Mike Siviski for at least this fall, and said it would be "poetic justice" for football to be both the first and last sport he coached at Winslow.
"After 30 years, my body needs a change. I need to give my body a break,"
Poulin said. "Maybe just by coaching one season a year, we can get this
body to survive a little bit longer."
Copyright © 2004, Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.