THIS + THAT: In memory of Bellows Falls sports’ heroes

Bellows Falls lost two big time community members recently. They both stood front and center in the athletic arena. They both cared about their community, and when it came to volunteering, they both asked, “Where do I get in line?”

Both these men are in the Bellows Falls Union High School Hall of Fame. They are both past presidents of the Bellows Falls Alumni Association. They both have been selected to be the Grand Marshall of the annual Alumni Parade. They both were coaches and cared about the athletes that played for them. They both supported the color purple anytime an athletic event was held.

They both are already missed big time.

Bob Joy lived 89 years on this earth. He wasn’t a teacher, but he might as well have been. He served on both school boards in town during his era, Rockingham and Bellows Falls Union High School, and for years advocated for the educational profession. His service on boards totaled in the 40-year range.

The biggest educational happening in the community in his lifetime was likely the building of Bellows Falls Union High School. He was the co-chairman of that project.

Most people know him as a baseball man and he was that, but he coached and officiated both basketball and baseball. Few people know the space he lived most of the final years of his life was an old armory where he coached CYO basketball. Was that his way of going back to the fond memory of his earlier years?

He was in the group that originally began Junior (Little) League Baseball in Bellows Falls, then moved on to found a Babe Ruth League and coach in it. When he thought he found someone to pass his Bellows Falls Jets team to – Russ Pickering- he came back and coached in the Junior League again.

“I didn’t know he had coached in the league before. I thought it was his first year when he drafted me as 9-nine year-old. He was my coach for all four years,” Kevin Vancor said. Vancor presently is following in Joy’s footsteps serving as the general manager of Bellows Falls’ American Legion Post 37 team. Joy once coached that team too.

Bob Joy coached me also. Vancor described how he viewed Joy as a coach. Our experiences were years apart, but the man was the same. Vancor remembers, “He was pretty direct. He was always about the rules. He used to carry the rulebook with him. We didn’t win much, but he was really patient. He loved the game of baseball. He had a tough exterior, but he was also compassionate. Even if he really got on you, he made sure he talked to you and make you feel better before you left the park.”

The one thing I remember most about Joy was not just his love of baseball, but how much Bellows Falls’ little league field meant to him. Many people saw how much he cared about the facility, which was officially tagged “Bob Joy Field” a number of years ago.

I mentioned Russ Pickering. He played for Joy with the Bellows Falls Legion way back before the Little League field existed. The Little League Field wasn’t even in anyone’s dream back then. The eventual Little League home plate was a patch of grass in Joy’s left center field back when he was coaching the Legion team with that big field’s home plate near today’s Recreation Center.

“Bob really helped me in developing my theories about baseball,” said Pickering, who played Legion for Joy and became his successor as the Babe Ruth coach. Pickering was also Legion head coach at one time. “Bob was inspirational in giving me confidence in being a baseball coach.”

Fran Coyne was 75 when he left us last week. He shared many community contributions with Joy. However, as much as there were similarities, there were also differences. Joy served his school years as a board member; Coyne spent a like number of years as a teacher. Where Coyne also coached, he also jumped in line for any useful committee he could contribute to. Such list was long.

Pickering worked with Coyne closely. “He was at the top of the list of assistant coaches I ever had. He related to kids at such a high level. He would get the most out of them. He was an inspiration to all,” Pickering noted.

Bis Bisbee inherited Coyne and Hugh Perkins as football assistants when he became head coach of the Terriers. He reflects, “I really don’t know where to begin. He was one of a kind. Three words come to mind when I think of Fran: courage, inspiration, and dedication.”

“The courage is for what he showed when he had to battle throughout the years,” Bisbee explained alluding to Coyne’s muscular dystrophy for more than 30 years, “especially when it became much more difficult.

“Second was inspiration. We are all lucky and became better people just to have come in contact with him. The third word was dedication. He was dedicated to so many people in so many ways. He was dedicated professionally to his students and his athletes. We have lost a great one, but heaven has gained one.”

Bisbee remembers vividly the day Coyne stood up for him publically as a professional and a friend. Those who know the story of Bisbee’s football success and his legacy of titles may not know there were some darker days in his early years. They once lost 26 games in a row, and the school board had a public hearing with his job on the line.

There were pros and cons presented, but Coyne’s words probably gave Bisbee the chance to prove himself. Bisbee remembers Coyne standing up and saying, “Give this young fellow a chance. The kids believe in him. They play hard for him and his athletes’ parents have told you they believe in him. Give this young fellow a chance.”

I spoke to Coyne’s brother in-law Charlie Bashaw and asked what stood out to him about Fran and he said, “He was so polite it was overwhelming. He had a gift for words.”

People in Bellows Falls have no shortage of words to glorify what these two men did for their community. They are certainly missed.

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