Life is ripe with relationships. There are those who are lifelong friends, who we maintain contact with on a regular basis. There are the drifting relationships, people we once spent a great deal of time with, yet as life paths change, so does the frequency of contact. In our lives there are people who only contact us if they want or need something. Some people you see their name appear on caller-id and contemplate whether or not to answer. There are the Facebook “friends”, many of whom the relationship is superficial at best. Then there are those, who you only see maybe a handful of times a year at most, the conversations are brief, yet so fulfilling.
The latter describes my relationship with Winslow’s Jim Poulin. Coach Poulin and I crossed paths again recently at the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s convention in Rockport. Poulin was recognized by the association for his longtime service in high school athletics. In large group settings our conversations usually are brief, after all Coach Poulin is a people magnet. It’s very easy to see why. Not one to draw attention to himself, any conversation with Jim Poulin quickly turns back around to how you are doing, what you are involved with. And he genuinely cares.
Many of you are probably well aware of Jim Poulin’s story pertaining to his roughly twenty year battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Jim Poulin has M.S. but the disease doesn’t define who Jim Poulin is. While I didn’t know Coach Poulin before being diagnosed, by all accounts from anyone who has known him prior to then, he is the same person then as he is know. Along with his strong Christian faith, the passion for life he exhibited before M.S. has sustained him as he continues to live his life.
You see, Jim Poulin not only likes his job and the kids in Winslow, he loves his job and has a real passion for it.
Despite the challenges he faces, he doesn’t want to be treated any differently. As he got up to speak at the recent MIAAA dinner, he quipped to the audience not to be so somber, it is o.k. to smile. When it was time to head up to the buffet line for the meal, I saw Jim coming towards our table. As he approached the table, I motioned to the man sitting next to me to move his chair in so he could get by, as he was seated back to Jim. Coach Poulin, in his motorized wheelchair, smiled and told us we were fine that he’s a good driver.
Speaking of challenges, when former Winslow athletic administrator Sean Keenan introduced Coach Poulin, he spoke of the struggles Jim faces just to get ready to perform his duties. He made comment of the three-hour preparation to get ready for practices and games. This didn’t even involve the mental preparation, this was just to get himself clean, dressed, and out the door.
Keenan, a longtime friend and colleague of Poulin’s, spoke of how he is an icon in Winslow. Coach Poulin started teaching in 1973 at Winslow High School and coached football, basketball, both boys and girls, as well as track and field. He has had the school yearbook dedicated to him, been asked to speak at commencement exercises, and has been the subject of numerous college entrance essays. Along the way Keenan has never heard Poulin complain or utter the expression “why me”.
One of the encounters with Coach Poulin I remember most vividly was in the 2004 Eastern Maine Class B football championship game when Winslow played Brewer at Doyle Field. I was doing the public address duties for the game and needed to speak with the Winslow coaches regarding how they wanted their line-up introduced. Their head coach, Mike Siviski wanted to have their starting defense announced so he sent me over to Coach Poulin, who was their defensive coordinator. Jim at the time, and throughout the remainder of his football coaching career, used a golf cart to move up and down the sidelines.
With clipboard and roster in hand, I hopped in the golf cart and rode around with Coach Poulin. As he was dictating the line-up to me, he kept circling around rows of Black Raiders, who were just beginning their stretching routine. As we talked, he kept slapping helmets, offering words of encouragement and motivation. Once our time together was done, I hopped out of the cart. After moving around in circles and looking down at my notes the whole time, I had all I could do to keep my balance trying to get back to the press box to announce. Talk about a dizzying moment but one I still treasure to this day.
2013 marked the first time in 38 years Jim Poulin was not on the Winslow sideline as a football coach. The hot summer practices and the cold of late autumn were taking too much of a toll on his body. In his speech this past week, coach likened this fall to an addict being taken off drugs. He loved “his kids” and coaching that much. He was back on the bench this past winter as an assistant with the Winslow boys basketball team.
It is safe to say with any encounter with Jim Poulin, we receive far more from his presence than we could ever possibly give him. When you ask him how he is doing, he always replies with that glimmer in his eye, “I’m doing great!” Sometimes that’s all that needs to be said. All of us who know Jim Poulin are the richer for it.