Rupert Lewis led the field hockey team to a 14-7 record, its very first post-season playoff and the best finish in the program's history. Two years ago, the team won just 1 game out of 14. Lewis challenges the players, but builds a close family feeling as well. He will also coach the new women’s lacrosse team that begins competition next spring.
At first, the lyrical Jamaican accent calling out across the playing field seems out of context. The voice commanding attention from the sidelines has a warm, friendly lilt on this quintessential New England afternoon in autumn.
"Set it up, set it up!" shouts Rupert Lewis, coach of the Saint Joseph's women's field hockey team. Pacing the sideline, hands behind his back, Lewis offers encouragement and direction to his young team. And while the path he traveled from the Caribbean to Standish was circuitous, it is clear Lewis has come full circle to his real passion.
As a young boy growing up in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Lewis played both soccer and field hockey. His athletic prowess garnered him a scholarship to the University of Southern Maine where he earned a degree in business and communication. He embarked on a career in the insurance business in Massachusetts, while still actively playing soccer and coaching adult and youth soccer teams in Maine.
Three years ago, Lewis yearned for a change. Weary of the long commute from Maine, Lewis spotted an ad for a field hockey coach at Saint Joseph's. Although he'd been out of coaching field hockey for 10 years, he felt it was a calling.
"It was meant to be," he says. "The program was struggling. The girls had a passion for playing but no desire for winning." Lewis took the team by storm, teaching a physical, soccer style of play that he admits was a hard sell.
"I was extremely intimidated by him," co-captain Gina Gaetani '08 of Auburn, Maine, recalls. "He is wicked good at field hockey and, even at 42, he could still keep up with us."
Fellow co-captain Katie Seaman '08 of Beverly, Mass., agrees. "He got on the field with 30 girls and ran all over us," she says.
Still, Lewis describes his first year as head coach as humbling. "I am a competitive player and they killed my ego," he says with a hearty laugh. "I had to get used to losing and I didn't take it well." Now in his third year, Lewis has watched his young team grow and mature as both players and citizens.
According to athletic director Brian Curtin, the coaching position was made full-time and Lewis worked very hard to recruit dedicated, talented players. "This is the first time field hockey has ever started the season 3-0 ... good things are happening because of his commitment and work."
"We're bringing excitement and prestige to the program," Lewis says, "but seeing kids grow and have confidence to become leaders on and off the field and become positive role models in the community is my greatest pleasure."
by Betty Lynne Leary