Thornton Academy Postscripts Alumni Magazine Winter 2007 - Page 11 THORNTON ATHLETICS: Getting Middle Grades into the Game As Thornton Academy paved the way for its 132 new students in grades 6 through 8 to arrive this fall, countless hours were spent in the previous year making plans, remodeling Thornton’s former industrial arts building into a stateof-the-art middle school, hiring talented middle school faculty and staff, and designing a top-notch academic curriculum, complete with extracurricular activities. But the planning and development didn’t stop at the classroom. Thanks to the careful consideration and commitment of administrators, faculty and staff, this year Thornton Academy also welcomed several new athletic teams in grades 6 through 8 to its rosters. This fall, Thornton Academy’s middle school program welcomed a boys and a girls soccer team. This winter, the middle school boys and girls are competing in basketball. And this spring, Thornton will welcome new teams in baseball and softball for the middle grades. “Obviously, the planning started well over a year ago, before school got started. We had to apply to the league and put the development processes in place,” says Thornton Academy Director of Athletics Dick Agreste. All of Thornton’s middle school athletic teams compete in the Southern Maine Middle School Athletic Conference (SMMAC), which hosts public and independent middle school teams from a wide geographic region, including Biddeford, Saco, Acton, Sanford, Kennebunk, Bonney Eagle and Shapleigh. Offering such athletic opportunities to Thornton’s newest students have given them an outlet to compete outside the classroom, but also the opportunity to become immediate members of Thornton’s long history and tradition of athletics and to feel and understand what Thornton pride is all about. “In any athletic program you want to get kids to be exposed to benefits of participating in a team sport,” says Agreste. “Of course, our middle school athletic program also provides excellent feeder to our athletics program at the high school level.” Because this is the first year Thornton has had a middle school program and, consequently, a middle school athletic program, the decision was made to let all students who came out for a team have the opportunity to play. In its first season, Thornton’s middle school boys soccer team had 16 players representing all three grades, while the middle school girls soccer team boasted 15 players from grades 7 and 8. Coaching the boys soccer team this year was Ryan Hersey, seventh and eighth grade science/reading teacher. Before coming to Thornton, Hersey had prior coaching experience and played soccer himself in college. Although Hersey was uncertain what to expect from Thornton’s middle school boys team during their first season, He knew he could draw from his previous experience coaching another startup team. “It was fun to see our students in another setting outside of the classroom, and to have the opportunity to connect with them on a new level,” adds Hersey. This fall, Tracie Saucier True ’95, seventh and eighth grade mathematics/reading teacher, took the helm as Thornton’s first middle school girls soccer coach. True also brought coaching experience with her to Thornton this year. She also played soccer throughout high school and college. Looking back, True says participating in athletics was one of her favorite high school experiences and that she understands the impact sports can make on a student. “Athletics can make such Members of the Thornton’s middle school boys soccer team huddle around Coach Ryan Hersey during a game. Thornton middle school basketball player McKenzie Labbe ‘13 shares the play strategy during a game. a difference for students of all abilities,” says True. “It allows for students who may not excel in academics the chance to shine.” This winter, Thornton’s middle school students are competing for the first time in boys and girls basketball, boasting a boys team of 12 players from grades 7 and 8 girls team of 12 players from grades 6 – 8. The startup of the middle school boys basketball team has brought back former Thornton basketball coach Marc Gagne to the court. Gagne, a 20-year veteran teacher at Thornton, currently teaches history at the high school level and serves as chair of his department. During his tenure, Gagne has coached football and basketball at the high school level. “When the opportunity for the middle school’s basketball coach became available, it made sense for me to explore it and get involved again, this time with much younger students,” says Gagne. “We tell all our students to get involved, to find something they are interested in. How can we really do that if we don’t ask ourselves to get involved?” Taking the lead as coach of the middle school girls basketball team is seventh and eight grade English and reading teacher Bob LePauloue ’93. Prior to coming to Thornton Academy this year, LePauloue coached boys basketball and girls softball at Saco Middle School. “I love coaching,” he says. “The student-to-teacher relationship is much different from that of the athlete-to-coach. When the students are playing sports, you can see them building their confidence levels. They are living the Thornton pride.” But the current success of Thornton’s growing middle school athletics program cannot only be credited to the coaches and the player. Oth