CONWAY — Coach Peter Ames wears the moniker old-school with pride. Ames coached a plethora of sports at Kennett High School and Kennett Middle School over the past 40 years.
Last month he retired from the coaching ranks, and in the same month, the Conway School Board voted to name the high school gym the Peter Ames Gymnasium, a fitting tribute to the winningest Eagle of all time.
Ames has a resume like no other coach at Kennett High. He coached varsity softball for 33 years, compiling a record of 456-222, while winning four state championships and finishing as runners up twice; he coached boy’s varsity basketball from 1980-93, leading the Eagles to the state finals in 1990 and winning 141 games over that period; he coached varsity girl’s basketball from 1996-2011, winning the state championship in 2010, winning 175 games in 15 season; he was an assistant coach on three of Kennett’s state football championships in the 1990s; was the assistant cross-country ski coach in 1994 and ’95, winning two state championships; and he coached JV baseball at KHS from 1980-86, going 114-22.
Ames attributes most of his success to the athletes who suited up for him along with the coaches he played for while he attended Kennett High as a student, playing football, basketball and baseball.
“One of the draws to teaching for me was that it made coaching available,” Ames, a 1972 KHS graduate who taught Social Studies at Kennett Middle School from 1978-2011, said. “When I played in school everybody who coached was a teacher. I really don’t ever remember having a coach through middle school or high school that didn’t teach. (Back then) really the only way to coach was to be a teacher.”
He added: “There weren’t parents coaching and wasn’t all of the AAU stuff. Coaching options then weren't really available.”
Ames had Rick Doherty as his varsity baseball coach his freshman year followed by Bob Burns his next three years. Jim Fickett and Crosby Milliman were also coaches in the program.
In basketball, Gordon Mann and Doherty were his coaches.
In football, Dave Brown and Bob Goff were his coaches but Burns and Mann were also involved in the program.
Ames credits Burns and Mann with helping to mold his coaching style.
“I worked a long time with Bob and Gordon,” he said. “Gordon and Bob were very influential for me because I thought they were both very good coaches but very different. I hopefully picked up some things from Gordon and some different things from Bob, and then sort of had my own thing.
“Gordon was my JV basketball coach when I was coaching the boys (varsity), which was kind of funny because he had been a varsity coach but as he got older he didn’t want the varsity workload. He was kind of a person I looked up to and still do. He was organized to the second. It was amazing. He had great knowledge of things and was very fundamentally sound. He really did a nice job with the teaching aspect of the game.
“Bob, on the other hand, was more the game itself kind of guy. He knew fundamentals but he wasn’t a big fundamental-type person. His game management and in-game decisions I think were very good. A lot of it was instinctual. I think I learned some things from him in those regards. Really all the coach, you pick up stuff from everybody, you're a product of what got you there.”
Ames admits he’d like to see more teachers coaching.
“It’s one of the things that I think is not a good thing,” Ames said to not having more teachers who coach. “Nothing against people who aren’t teachers but I think being in school, being able to be available throughout the school day to just be able to see kids in a different light. You see them in the classroom and they see you in the classroom. I think that’s an important thing that’s missing now. Even for me, since I retired from teaching, I don’t know the kids as well as I did. I used to know them from seventh-grade right through high school, but now I know the softball kids as they become freshmen but you only see them two hours or so. I wish more teachers would be involved in coaching.”
Ames says he’s not sure why more teachers aren’t coaching.
“For me, I was very fortunate because I had a wife (Joan, who coached cheerleading at Kennett for a number of years) who was very supportive of me. (Laughing) Maybe she liked me never being around,” he said. “I think a lot of people now, it’s their families. We made it all kind of a family thing. We weren’t going on a trip, but we were going to a game. Brit (their daughter) was going to games before she could walk and kind of kept going up through her graduation.”
Conway Parks and Recreation Director John Eastman, Class of 1982, credits Ames with restoring the boy's basketball program when he took over the reins in 1980.
“The program was in shambles,” he recalled. “I was fortunate to play for him in my junior and senior year. I think what’s unique about Pete is that he’s always been an old-school coach. He would consistently go over things through repetition until you got it right.”
Eastman paid Ames the ultimate compliment by saying he molded his coaching style after him.
“When I was an assistant basketball coach at Falmouth and then varsity coach at Sacopee Valley (both in Maine), I coached a lot like Pete,” he said. “My two girls (Ashton and Tazia) played softball for him when they were in school and they’ll both tell you he was their best coach. If he got on you, it showed he cared. He never gave up on anyone — he always did it the right way in my mind.”
Kennett Middle School Athletic Coordinator Gredel Shaw, Class of 1996, laughs when she recalls thinking softball might not be for her in her freshman year under Coach Ames.
“I thought we were going to have a personality clash, but he was great,” she said. “He is the most consistent and fair coach that I have ever had. He treats everyone the same, has the same expectations today has he did 20 years ago. He’s not lovey-dovey or all kum-ba-yah, he’s old-school and I love it — we need more coaches likes that.”
Ames coached three sports essentially for 30 years, going from the football sidelines to the basketball hardwood and then onto the diamond. It’s something he couldn’t see doing today.
“In today’s world I never would have been able to coach three varsity sports,” he said. “Back then, you couldn’t have contact with your athletes until the day your season started. Now, you can actually start doing things the season before your season, and it can’t be mandatory and all that, but still from a coach’s perspective you have to do something because other places are doing things and if you’re going to compete. When I was coaching basketball, not that I didn’t think about softball, but I couldn’t have kids come in to do some hitting or pitching. Now, during basketball season, if you’re coaching in the spring, you’ve got to set some time aside, I think for hitting, throwing and pitching.
He added: “I never wanted one sport to feel like, and to me it wasn’t, to feel inferior to another. To me, the sport in the season was always the most important. It was that way when I was a kid when I played. During the fall, football was my favorite sport. During the winter it was basketball and during the spring it was baseball.”
Ames admits he’s not the best skier but believes coaching two years with Chuck Broomhall made him a better coach.
“I coached a lot of different things, from soccer to skiing and I learned from those experiences,” he said. “Coaching skiing for two years I think was a very good thing for me. Obviously, I can’t cross-country ski for beans but there are some things maybe about the competitiveness and don’t let this person beat you. It doesn’t really matter the time but you are kind of against this person, especially in the relays. All of those different things I kind of think helped me as a coach and I think it would help kids also if they were to play multiple sports.”
One trait that has stuck with Ames from his days growing up in Tamworth to coach is he’s competitive.
“I’m a pretty competitive person I think,” he said. “I think that part is really the hardest part to try to rein in as time has gone on. I think at the high school varsity level, you wouldn’t keep score if you didn’t care who won. Although it’s not the only thing, ultimately you want to win. I think I’ve toned it back a little bit, at least outwardly, but inwardly I don’t want to play a game and not win. I don’t want to cheat to do it but I’ve always believed if you worked hard enough and you worked together enough, you had a chance. You want to be competitive and you want to give yourself a chance to win, sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t but you don’t give up.”
One thing Ames is proud of is his a bond with his former players.
“I always looked at it I guess the same way I looked at it with my daughter,” he said. “I love her. I love the kids that I coached but I didn’t want to be their friend. I wanted to be their coach, hoping that as they got older we’d be friends. It’s like when you are a parent there are times when your kids don’t like you. Somebody has to be the adult to say, ‘No, that’s not right.’ The one thing people might sometimes think is that I might be critical, but I looked at it from the standpoint of my job as a coach is to try to help you get better. If you’re doing something wrong and I ignore it, I’m not helping you get better. You might like it more but you’re still going to do the same thing wrong forever.”
Ames said there have been a ton of highlights.
“Personally, probably winning a championship with Brit as a senior because she was going to be going on,” he said. “It was kind of bookended because we won one when she was a freshman and one when she was a senior. That’s more personal.
“I think really the basketball team (in 2010) with Allie (Wagner) and Melissa (Frase), to me was a very rewarding win. I don’t think that we were the most talented team. We didn’t have the best athletes but we were the best team. Our travel to the final, we should have been beaten at Souhegan but we came back from 20-plus points down at halftime to beat them on their court.
“Then to play Portsmouth and we ended up beating them and they were very good. And, then eventually getting to the championship game against Lebanon and Allie making seven or eight foul shots in a row to kind of cement it. That team was a very memorable team and to do it in basketball was big. We had done it in softball. We’d won in football. From a kind of selfish thing, I wanted to coach a team that won a state championship in basketball because Kennett is known as a ski school. To be able to do it on the basketball side was very rewarding and we had great kids that year.”
Ames also listed the 1990 boys’ basketball team led by Jeff Perry that reached the championship game as another special group.
Another highlight was winning the first state championship in 1995 with Nikki (Wagstaff) Wrobelski pitching.
“Nobody gave us a chance to win,” he said. “I think she’s the last modified pitcher to win a championship. We played Lebanon and they had this girl who moved in was a big windmill (style pitcher). Everyone thought we were going to get crushed and we didn’t.”
“There are so many things that are memorable. It’s hard to mention them without leaving out something else. The nice thing is I’ve had some really good kids over the course of time.”
Ames wishes his successor well and offered some advice.
“Obviously, you have to love what you do,” he said. “If it’s not something that you really love to do, I don’t think you should do it because you do a disservice to the kids.”