In typical fashion, Skowhegan High School field hockey coach and Maine Sports Hall of Famer Paula Doughty downplayed her most recent accomplishment: Her 500th career win.
“It just means I’m old. What else can I say?,” said the 64-year-old Doughty, who has guided the Indians to 13 state Class A championships over the past 15 seasons and has 16 overall.
Looking back on her feat, which has been attained in 36 seasons, she acknowledged that it is “pretty remarkable.”
“We play only 14 regular-season games,” said Doughty, who noted that high school field hockey teams in other states play 22 games during the regular season.
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To put things into perspective, there have been only six high school basketball coaches in the state who have won 500 games and their teams play 18-game, regular-season schedules.
Soccer teams also play 14 games and the state’s winningest soccer coach, recently-retired Ellsworth High School boys coach Brian Higgins, won 566 games in 42 seasons.
Doughty is 500-86-18.
Doughty, who played field hockey at Wilton Academy, began coaching in 1974 and recalled losing her first game 12-0 to Gardiner.
By the end of the season, they had improved to the point where they tied Mt. Blue of Farmington, “and Mt. Blue was the best team in the state that year.
“That team was my most special one, no doubt about it,” said Doughty. “I was 21 years old and I was coaching 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds. To give up 12 goals in your first game and then tie the best team in the state six weeks later was special.”
Doughty and Deb Bowker teamed up to establish a field hockey program for girls in kindergarten through 12th grade 30 years ago and it has paid off handsomely. Skowhegan has been the state’s most successful high school program and arguably the best in any sport.
Coaching field hockey is a labor of love for Doughty, who has raised four sons with her husband, John. She took five years off from being the head coach and was the JV coach when her sons were little.
“I love everything about it. I love the kids, I love the sport, I love my coaches,” said Doughty.
“But I really love watching the girls grow into these strong, independent women after coming to me as little girls,” said Doughty.
Doughty’s coaching approach is tried and true.
“I really am old school. We have the same routine we do every day and it will be that way until I retire,” said Doughty. “The kids like it. It’s safe.
“I’m very up front with my kids. I don’t play (mind) games with them. A lot of coaches play games with their kids. I tell them if they are going to start, if they are going to sub in or I’ll tell them they probably aren’t going to get into a game this year,” said Doughty. “They like it. It’s safe.”
She stresses hard work and accountability from her players — with no coddling.
“Not everybody gets a trophy. Not everybody gets a hug and a kiss every day,” said Doughty. “I want these girls to be able to set goals, to work hard, to face adversity and to be leaders. I want them to be strong and to go out and do great things. Almost every kid who has played for me and gone on to play in college has been a captain in college. That’s because they learn leadership skills.”
Doughty, who is in her 43rd and final year as a teacher at Skowhegan High in the social studies department, focuses on education.
“I want them to be excellent students and go to college. Almost every one of my kids go to college,” she said.
If a player is struggling in school, Doughty won’t let her practice or play until the player improves her academic standing.
She is extremely proud of the careers her players have carved out for themselves.
“Some of the girls are doctors, lawyers, sea captains,” said Doughty, who is also quick to point out that Skowhegan Area High School principal Monique Poulin is one of her former players.
“She was one of my captains. Now she’s my boss,” she said proudly.
Doughty is not a micro-manager and feels strongly about surrounding herself with a top-notch coaching staff.
“Some head coaches are afraid to hire good assistants,” said Doughty. “I hire the best people I can find and let them do their thing. Tammy Veinotte has been with me for 12-13 years. She’s fabulous. I let her coach the defense. She’s wonderful coaching defense.”
Her JV coach is Norma Boynton, who captained her 1974 team.
“The kids love her. She’s amazing,” said Doughty.
Doughty has coached more than 100 girls who have gone on to play college field hockey including 35 at the Division I level.
“That’s amazing. Field hockey is the one sport women from the state of Maine can aspire to play Division I,” said Doughty. “If you look back 50 years, there have been more Division I field hockey players from the state than all the other sports combined.”
Former Skowhegan standout Adriana Martineau is a starting back for the University of Maine and two former Skowhegan teammates, Jessica Skillings and Nicole Sevey, were stars at UMaine.
In addition to her 1974 team, there have been other teams that hold a special place in Doughty’s heart.
“The 1991 and ’92 won the first two state championships and that was really special,” said Doughty. “The ’98 team and then the ’06 team with Courtney Veinotte was amazing. We graduated 12 seniors after the ’06 season and we had just one player back in ’07 but we won the state through sheer grit. It was crazy. The girls dug down deep.”
This year’s team is 10-1-1 and a legitimate contender to annex another state championship.
It will be different for Doughty next season when she will be strictly coaching and won’t be teaching any more.
“I’ll have more time to do it (coach) well,” said one of the state’s most successful high school coaches ever.