SEEKONK â€” As often is the case during the summer, Sandy Gorham could be found standing on a local pool deck exhorting his Kendbrin Swim and Tennis Club competitors to be the best they can be.
On Thursday, the site just happened to be the six-lane, 25-meter Grist Mill club facility; that's where Kendbrin was competing in an cabana club league dual meet.
It proved the perfect setting for Gorham â€“ who for nearly four decades had played a key role in the athletic, academic and personal development of youngsters ages six to 18 â€“ to explain why he has chosen to return as the head coach of the East Providence High varsity football team, not to mention instructor within the school's department of health and physical education.
For several months now, Gorham had pondered retirement from both posts, a monumental reason the city's economic plight and its effect on teachers' pensions, which are slated to plummet.
â€śI couldn't sleep; I'd be up at 1:30 or 2 in the morning wondering if I was doing the right thing (by retiring),â€ť stated Gorham as he relaxed at a shaded picnic table following a Kendbrin triumph. â€śI wasn't ready to retire, but with all the stuff happening with the pension system, I was thinking I had to.
â€śI thought, because of the way things were going financially in East Providence and the school department, maybe I should get out and protect my family's future,â€ť he added. â€śAnother key issue was health care and the uncertainty surrounding that. I wondered if I'd be able to get another job, or if (my wife) could. My No. 1 concern was providing my family's health care.
â€śLike I said, I couldn't sleep. I was, like, 'If I retire, am I doing the right thing?' I never thought, 'I can't wait to retire.' I didn't feel that way. I still felt I had a lot to offer the kids. The big thing was I wasn't comfortable with my decision. I mean, if I retired, I'd have to spend over $1,000 a month on health care. Who can afford that?â€ť
Another factor: Gorham had been diagnosed with prostate cancer back in mid-October, only three days after the Townies had registered a stellar 35-14 victory over rival Hendricken. His doctors told him his best bet to survive and thrive was to have it surgically removed.
He did, on Dec. 6.
â€śI remember one day in early June, I woke up and went to school,â€ť Gorham offered. â€śI wanted to talk with my department head, John Gendron. I had struggled all weekend (June 1-3) about what I should do. I talked to him as a friend, and he said, 'Sandy, can you put your head on your pillow at night?' I told him I couldn't.
â€śAfter we chatted, I just couldn't hand in my letter of resignation (from both positions). I hadn't sent it in yet, despite the fact word had gotten out I was mulling it over â€¦ The problem was, the fire still burns deep inside me. I realized what an awesome responsibility I have to keep coaching and teaching the kids.
â€śI've come full circle with my decision, and I'm very much at peace with it,â€ť he continued. â€śMy family is my responsibility, and I have to provide for them. There are many more important things than my retiring, and now I can rest comfortably at night. I'm also very excited about this year's team and what we can do.â€ť
Educating children and high schoolers is something in which Gorham, a 1970 EPHS graduate who achieved All-State status in baseball and swimming, has reveled since his days at the University of Rhode Island. He initially had intended to become a pharmacist, as did twin brother Ted, who also excelled at swimming and baseball.
The brothers actually played the latter with the Rams, and Sandy lettered his final three years there as a third baseman.
After two years at the institution, however, he chose to give up on the School of Pharmacy and instead follow the road that called him, a Bachelor's in Health & Physical Education.
â€śTed decided to stay with (pharmacology), but it was so hard, he had to quit the baseball team; it was so challenging,â€ť he said. â€śI wanted to continue playing, and I also couldn't picture myself in a white lab coat working behind a counter day-in and day-out. I entered health and physical education because I was always in a gym, at a field or in a pool anyway.â€ť
As a senior at URI in 1974, he taught swimming as part of a work-study program; he explained that amazingly-successful Hendricken varsity swim coach Dave Hanson did so with him.
In fact, that same year, he became the varsity swimming head coach at Barrington High, the reason being Pat Monti, one of the founders of the Newman YMCA in Seekonk, had left the position.
â€śSome of the kids saw me at Barrington Y when I was home from URI that summer, and they asked me to coach them,â€ť he said with a grin. â€śI told them we'd have to practice at night because I had classes all day, and I was also playing ball. We had workouts from 9-10:30 at night, then I'd head back to school to study and prepare for classes.â€ť
Gorham, who was teaching P.E. at Barrington Middle School after earning his Bachelor's in 1975, also worked as a freshman football assistant there, then worked his way up to freshman head coach. In 1985, he assisted the Eagles' varsity program, and took over the chief's duties in 1986.
â€śI had to pay my dues, work my way up the ladder like a lot of coaches had to do back then,â€ť he mentioned. â€śI learned the craft before I ever had the opportunity to be a head coach.â€ť
He mentored both the football players and swimmers until 1990; that's the year he returned to his alma mater to become then-athletic director Kenny Reall's assistant and a P.E. instructor. In 1992-93, he assisted head grid coach Steve Silva's program, and he and Jon Stringfellow were the co-coaches in 1994 before Gorham took the reins in 1995.
When asked what his career football coaching record at EPHS, he laughed.
â€śI really don't remember, but I know I figured it out up to 2006,â€ť he said. â€śI think it was 147-38, something like that. I don't know, but it was real good. Over the past five years or so, we've been just over .500.â€ť
He explained last year's squad achieved a 5-5 mark, but had started the campaign at 5-1 following that blowout win over the Hawks.
â€śWe had beaten Hendricken at mid-season, but then we went up to Foxboro (High) for a non-leaguer the following week, and it was a nightmare,â€ť he recalled. â€śWe lost five starters in that game, and we got pounded, 20-0.
â€śWe had done really well between the 20s (yard lines), but we couldn't punch it in,â€ť he added. â€śIt was a cold night, and we had some fumbles. It was one of those games that seemed like a great idea in May, but â€“ as the season wore on â€“ it wasn't. We had just beaten Hendricken handily, and we were thinking, 'You know what? We don't have to play this; we don't want to play this.' Looking back, we should've rested to prepare for Barrington. It was like playing with one hand tied behind your back.â€ť
Among those starters lost in Foxboro: offensive/defensive tackle Aaron Chartier; defensive end Danny McKay; running back/linebacker Brendan Quigley; inside linebacker Dom Ferreira; and nose tackle/guard Jonah Aurelio, a heavyweight who recovered and finished second at the R.I. Interscholastic Wrestling Championships this past winter.
â€śIt was a heartbreaking year,â€ť he confessed. â€śWe thought, with the terrific start, and if we could stay healthy, we could win the Super Bowl. Hendricken won it instead, and that was the same team we had crushed earlier in the season.
â€śI felt bad for the kids,â€ť he added. â€śI really thought we had the opportunity to achieve greatness, but then we lost to Barrington, South Kingstown and La Salle (on Thanksgiving morning). If it hadn't been for all those injuries â€¦â€ť
He paused there.
â€śWhen word got out I was thinking about retiring, the kids were upset about it,â€ť he said. â€śI think they were rattled, wondering who the heck would coach them, but I think they're happy I decided to come back. Some of my former players called me and wished me the best; when they heard I'd return, I heard, 'We're glad you're back. Now go get 'em!â€ť
While referencing this year's club, he called it â€śa big question mark.â€ť The reason: He returns only one offensive starter (junior lineman Leon Edmonds) and two on defense (cornerback Josh Rambert and safety Jashaun Bennett, both seniors).
â€śA lot of the kids who played JV last year are going to have to step it up,â€ť noted Gorham, who in his tenure has driven E.P. to seven Super Bowls, including five triumphs, those occurring in 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2006 (they lost in '95 and '01).
Over the last 16 seasons, he's also qualified the Townies for post-season play 14 times.
â€śWe're definitely not a veteran team like we were the last couple of years, but I'm excited to see who's going to mature into a varsity-level player,â€ť he stated. â€śWe've lost a lot (to graduation), but it's going to give plenty of underclassmen an opportunity to play.
â€śHonestly, I can't wait; the uncertainty of the youth will be a big challenge, but I want to see how these kids develop,â€ť he continued. â€śI can tell you we're going to change things offensively. We're not going to be running the option the way we used to â€“ more shotgun, more Wing-T, more kids carrying the ball. We're not going to be so dependent on the quarterback and fullback taking the handles.
â€śOur goal will be to get the ball on the perimeter. We're much smaller physically; we're nit a big team size-wise, though I think we're going to be more athletic and quicker. That's why we want to get the ball on the outside. We'll trap and run a lot more.â€ť
As for the defensive side, he claimed, â€śWe usually run a five-man front, but I'm not sure what we'll do there. We're so much smaller than we were, so we've got to do some things differently.â€ť
When asked if he can fathom the fact he's starting his 17th year as the Townies' mentor, he smiled, â€śIt sure goes by fast, but I can believe it. The thing is, I never left. It was just a decision I had to come to, think long and hard about. I'm excited about this.â€ť
That said, he headed out the Grist Mill main gate to return to Kendbrin to finish his work as the aquatic director. At 4:45 p.m., he said, he'd leave there for his alma mater for thrice-weekly weightlifting sessions with his players.
â€śThey're great kids,â€ť he said. â€śIt's all about them.â€ť