FRYEBURG — The end of an era. Fred Apt, the lone Fryeburg Academy coach to lead the Raiders to state championships in two sports — ice hockey and softball — is retiring.
Apt shared the news with his softball team following the Western Maine Regional Finals last month. He said the time is right to leave the diamond.
“I’m 66, I have a grandson who is 3 months old, and another one who is 3 years old,” he said. “I want to see them and be able to play with them. … It’s sad. When I told the kids we all had tears in our eyes, but when is there a good time to step away? As much as I'm going to miss it, it's the right time.”
“I look at how many kids we've touched with our program and they've touched us,” Apt said. “I look now and I have two All-State centerfielders (Mackenzie Buzzell and Brylie Walker) who were my assistants the last few years. The e-mails and the Facebook posts, ‘What you've taught us Coach Apt is more than softball' — that's what hits me.”
“We all measure success differently. If I have kids that can't play catch, by the end of the year, they can catch it. Well, it's successful.”
Apt started coaching softball at the Academy in 1998, working as an assistant with Dede Frost and took over the program after the 1999 season.
“I remember going to Poland and beating Poland and I was never so mad. We just didn't play the game but we won. People didn't understand that. I'm saying this not about the wins. We have never, and Coach (Chris) Dutton will tell you the same thing, we’ve never been about winning, it’s about playing the game the right way, respecting your teammates and your opponents. The keyword here is respect. And that's your teammates, your opponents, your coaches, the opposing coaches, umpires, everyone respect everybody.”
Dutton is also leaving the program.
“I guess we’re a tandem,” Apt said, smiling.
Dutton, who joined the softball program in 2005 as the junior varsity coach, has been the varsity assistant coach since 2008.
“What he does is amazing,” Apt said. “He’s been a big part of this program’s success. Any kid who wants to stay after practice for extra work, Dutty stays with them. I think of the stuff that Dutty has done that people don’t realize. He’ll break down throwing individually with a kid when I’m doing something else. There have been lots of times where kids have played travel ball, and a parent will tell me their travel ball coach does this, does that, and I’ll say talk to Dutty. Dutty did this and I witness it. He’s the one the players always go to to stay extra because he and I work so well together. Every night after practice we’re communicating.”
He added: “We’ve had a lot of fun and the kids have had a lot of fun. We never set goals except to get better. That’s all I wanted to do was to get better and better, and we're a coaching staff that focused on fundamentals because I always felt like if I teach my kids fundamentals, we're going to be OK, because you're not. you know — you're worried about this and that.”
Dutton said “trust” is the word that springs to mind when he says what makes Apt a great coach.
“I remember when he asked me to join his staff, and the talk he gave about why he thought I would be a great addition to the program,” said Dutton. “I chuckled at first because I said I do the JV program but he wanted me to be part of the varsity team if I was going to make an impact and learn. There wasn’t a varsity assistant position at that time but he said don't worry about that we will have the assistant position soon. A year later it was created and we formed the so-called ‘Package.’"
He added: “I always tell people I had the best job in the state as the assistant because I got to learn and have a great friendship with Fred. I also got to coach the game of softball and values directly with the players and Fred every day. Fred did that plus he took on all the responsibilities of dealing with schedules, parents, school activities, etc. I just got to show up and coach. Fred gave me as much freedom and authority as he had as a coach. He knew and trusted we had the same goals and beliefs on and off the field, for what was best for the program. Some head coaches would feel threatened to give up control and or have more than one voice discussing Xs and Os and what's best for the situation at hand, but Fred and I knew how to make it a strength for both of us and how to make the program move forward.”
Dutton said accountability and caring are two of Apt’s strengths.
“I never met a coach that was so true to his beliefs and standards and would hold everyone including myself to those high standards by making everyone accountable and treating everyone as equal. At the same time, he’s such a caring individual who had a high passion for the game and a high passion to be around players and teach them life lessons, accountability, respect, and the game all at once. The respect and looks on player’s faces in all the years coaching with him you see how special and how much influence he had and making anyone in the program better. You might think being good close friends at times could be hard to coach together and teach the same way year after year, but I feel it made us stronger and the friendship grew fonder. To say I have learned a lot would be an understatement, as he has taught me things in softball and outside of softball on how to treat people and become a better person each day. That's priceless in my mind."
The Raiders were always prepared under Apt and ready to play to their strengths which might mean playing small ball and manufacturing runs or being aggressive on the base paths.
“We’ve been a running team and we’ve been a power team, we change to what we have to do,” Apt said. “This year, we did it both. I’ve never had a team hit so many home runs. Katie McIntyre hit seven, and I don’t think before this year I’d had a team hit seven, and Morgan (Fusco) hit six. We just crushed the ball.”
The Raiders missed out on the 2020 season due to COVID-19.
“It was awful,” Apt said. “I felt so bad for my seniors. We had just gotten beaten by York in the seventh inning of Regional finals the year before. I have no problem saying this. I felt last year's team would have been the best team I’ve had. I'm not saying we would have won 10 games, but that team was loaded. We were loaded from top to bottom, and those kids didn’t get to play their seniors years.”
Teams rarely have had success against the Raiders, and certainly not more than once in a season.
“One thing that I've always felt comfortable with and I used to tell Coach Dutton. We’d get together before we're playing a Cape (Elizabeth) for the second time. We’re going over the book, we're going over everything — Coach Dutton is great at getting scouting reports. Our second time with you, we’re going to beat you. That’s how we always felt. We always felt we overachieved, whether we did or not, I don't know, but I felt we did. We've won in a variety of ways, and it's been awesome. It’s been quite a run.”
Apt is hoping Buzzell and Walker will be considered to succeed him and Dutton.
“I’m backing Mackenzie and Brylie,” he said. “I just think they would do a good job with the kids and they know what works. I really hope it’s Mackenzie and I have no problem saying that. I think she would be good for the position and with Brylie helping as much as she can with her job, but I think she’d do a good job. She obviously likes what we've done because she’s stuck around.”
Buzzell loved playing for and coaching with Apt.
“Some of the things that immediately stick out to me when I think of Coach Apt is that he had this amazing quality to make everyone around him feel special,” she said. “He makes you feel like you are a part of something so much bigger and greater than yourself. Playing for Coach Apt gave me a place to find a confidence that I didn’t know I had.”
She added: “He has left a mark on all his players because he cares about them not just as softball players but as people, too. He has helped me as a softball player, a person and now as a coach. He has been one of the greatest mentors, as he has taught me so much about the game. Although more importantly, he has taught me how to connect with others, and how to bring groups together to work towards a common goal. There was a time when I was ready to give up on softball because it wasn’t fun anymore, but then I played a season for Coach Apt. He helped me find a new love for the sport, a season that gave me lifetime memories, new confidence and a voice I never knew I had.
“There aren’t enough words for me to express how thankful I am for the time I have spent playing for and coaching with Coach Apt. Fryeburg Softball will miss him but he will always be a part of this program, and remembered for all that he has have given it.”
Apt’s record is an amazing 248-40. His teams have played in the Regional finals 10 times and brought home four state championships. The Raiders were 5-11 the first season under Apt.
“Someone asked me once, ‘Where’s your favorite place to play,’ and for me, it’s (St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine), because it means I’m playing for something and it been good to us,” he said, laughing.
One of the things Apt and Dutton believe that made their teams so successful is the bond the squad formed each year. Each spring the team traveled first to Florida and later to Connecticut over spring break where the Raiders played local opponents but also got to know each other.
“That first year we went to Connecticut and I’ll never forget we played an inner-city school (Cheney Tech) from Hartford,” Apt recalled and his team won easily but each of the opponents was so gracious in defeated and they were honored to play a team like Fryeburg. “Before we got ready to come home I said, let's just reflect on this trip. Let's walk around the field. Everyone just walked single file and think about everything they saw, and it was just so cool. And then we sat down and I asked what did you think? And a lot of them mentioned Cheney Tech and how these kids are just so happy to play. Happy to play and they don't take anything for granted. They were happy because they get to play. That's pretty cool.”
Apt has seen many of his players go on to play in college. He said no longer are college coaches just focused on recruiting the athlete.
“The big thing out of coach's mouths now is, we're recruiting the posse. ‘Who's coming with them? I guarantee you, I can find 20 people as good as the one I'm looking at, but what's the family like? Who's coming with her?’ I tell people that all the time, as much as they like her, if you’re a pain in the neck, she isn’t going there.”
When asked if there’s been a favorite moment, Apt couldn’t come up with just one, “because it’s probably not one from on the field.”
“I’d say, just my time with the kids,” he said. “There’s just been so many times where I’ve had a blast.”
Apt added, “What’s been key to me is what I've taught them and what I've learned. I mean that many kids over the years and so many personalities and I get to be part of that. That's what I tried to tell people, I learned as much from these kids.”
“My first win ever as a coach was Gray-New Gloucester, and my last win was Gray-New-Gloucester, that’s petty wild. I wish it hadn’t been last win (in the Regional finals).”
Emelia DeSanctis and Morgan Fusco, captains of this year’s Raiders, credit Apt with having an impact on their lives.
“When he broke the news that he was retiring I was devastated,” DeSanctis said. “Yes I was done playing, but I was sad that nobody else would get to experience being coached by a legend. Coach Apt taught me not only about softball but life. He taught us on time is 15 minutes early, I bring this to everything I do… work, school, etc. and teaching us that leadership, teamwork and dedication is the top priority.”
She added: “He always asks how my travel softball season is going and makes sure he’s always in the loop. When I was injured he checked up on me every day, multiple times a day, to make sure I was feeling alright. I have known Coach Apt as a coach since seventh grade when he started coming to my middle school softball games. He has always told me to work hard, and to push myself. He never thought of us as just his players, he made sure we knew how much we meant to him, even if it brought tears to his eyes.”
“Coach Apt and Coach Dutton created an environment that allowed for the players to be in the driver’s seat when it came to their own success,” said Fusco. “Although there was always a rigid agenda that we were held accountable for, we had fun and built team camaraderie. As an example, we didn’t focus on each other’s age, we saw each other as Fryeburg Softball. We didn’t single out our freshmen and make them carry equipment alone. We didn’t view our upperclassmen as automatically superior. Everything had to be earned. After all, one's success on the field can be directly affected and even determined by another’s performance."
She added: “When it was all about the team off the field and in practice, it remained about the team during competition. Coach Apt has never been about winning. While there is no doubt that we loved to win, it wasn’t our sole focus. His goal was always for us to work our hardest as a unit and leave the best version of ourselves on the field both mentally and physically. When we executed this goal, we often won not only on our own terms, but also by the scoreboard. I am fortunate that I was able to play for Coach Apt and Coach Dutton, two people that brought such different things to the table; a coaching pair that I really benefitted from.”
How would Coach Apt like to be remembered by his players?
“I hope I’m remembered as someone who cared about them, was fair to them and helped them in any way I could in more than softball and in life,” he said. “On social media, a lot of the kids will always say, and I'll get emails, ‘You've helped us. You taught us life lessons.’ And like I said before, a lot of the stuff that we do, it's about life lessons, not about softball, but it'll play into it, they all play into each other.”
Apt added: “I can say I never did it for anything but the kids. I can honestly say that, and all these wins are great, it’s definitely a feather in my cap, but I want it to be, I was there for the kids. As long as that’s being said, I’ve done quite well.”