Right-hand man: Coach Frye's assistance will be missed by MarinersOceanside head coach Worcester now helped by former Buc Campbell
Thomaston — For 13 years on the high school softball field, John Frye played Robin to Rusty Worcester's Batman. Tonto to his Lone Ranger. Kato to his Green Lantern. And the Sundance Kid to his Butch Cassidy.
The two were a team, a dynamic coaching duo essentially working, thinking, acting as one.
Frye usually stayed in the shadows, never in the spotlight, but, more than most know, was a major reason why Worcester's softball teams often found themselves in the limelight.
Now, as Worcester forges ahead in his 14th straight year as head coach of the Georges Valley and Oceanside varsity softball teams, Frye has decided to step aside to focus on being a parental fan of his son, Travis, a junior who plays for the Mariner baseball team.
Rachel Campell, a 2004 GVHS graduate and recent Mariner subvarsity coach in several sports, will take Frye's place by Worcester's side.
While Campbell will bring a different personality and a female coaching presence to the team, Worcester and Campbell agree Frye will be missed as a trusted, vastly knowledgeable assistant, helping Worcester develop and nurture one of the most respected and successful high school softball programs in the state.
While Frye's two daughters, Rachel and Danielle, both team focal points as standout pitchers, will be missed from the Mariner and Buccaneer programs (Rachel graduated last year and Danielle several years ago), so will their father.
Together in 13 spring seasons on the diamond, Worcester and Frye helped the Buc and Mariner programs compile 187 wins and only 40 losses (as of April 29, Worcester now has a career mark of 189-41 after two victories in three games to start this season).
The two coaches helped their teams win two state Class C championships (2007-2008 with Georges Valley), one state Class B title (2013 with Oceanside), three Western Class C/Eastern Class B regional titles (also qualified for and lost that game a handful of other times) and five league (Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B or Mountain Valley Conference) crowns.
In recent decades, Frye has been one of the Midcoast's most talented adult athletes in softball, basketball and golf, to name a few. And his ability to teach fast-pitch softball has been invaluable to his daughters and, ultimately, to the Bucs and Mariners.
Frye said he is stepping away from coaching at this point but may return in the future. And if does that some day, the focus of his attention again will undoubtedly be on the student-athletes, not himself.
" I, really, was just an assistant coach and the buck always stopped with Rusty," Frye said. "That’s what I bought into and that’s how I liked it. The teams and individuals that I was involved with in the past received many deserved accolades and I, truly, believe it’s about them. Not me. I am happy with moving on and lingering in the shadows for a while."
Frye said his departure from the Mariners and his friend, Worcester, was not easy.
"It was extremely difficult [to step away]," Frye said. "Obviously I had my heart and soul into it, but the time was right personally and it was time to watch a little baseball. My son's a junior so he'll have some sort of contribution to the team this year and I wanted to be there to watch that."
Worcester said he and Frye were not only coaches together but are close friends. Thus, Frye's departure is felt a little more deeply.
"When you lose someone like him who just has tremendous knowledge about the game and all aspects of the game [it is tough]," Worcester said of Frye. "We would do things by just looking at each other and we were both thinking the same thing at the same time. It is a huge void to fill probably as much, if not more, than the great, great players I just lost to [graduation] last year. Just the consistency alone."
While Worcester and Frye have had their daughters play for their high school teams, the two men also have coached many years without having a family member in the program.
"I spent six years [with the program] before either one of them [Rachel and Danielle] got started, but they kind of morphed into the game and enjoyed it," Frye said. "Obviously I wanted to continue it along. And the tradition of father/daughter with Brittany and Rusty playing too, it was kind of fun. To be with your daughters."
Campbell, who has coached middle school girls soccer and high school jayvee softball in recent years, will take over for Frye. Ironically, Campell played for Worcester and Frye as a first baseman at GVHS.
"Like I told Rachel, you don't walk in the players' shoes and you don't walk in John Frye's shoes, step to the side and make your own path and steps," Worcester said. "She brings to the table things that John and I couldn't … She brings that desire that needs to be to play at that top level. So she can get on these kids and say, 'Listen, you have got to be fired up. You have to do this or that.' She has been through the [softball] program with me for four years as a very good first baseman."
Worcester said it also will be nice for the girls to have a female coach to relate and talk to. That might help bridge the gap that sometimes can be built between male coaches and young female athletes.
Campbell said she, as a female, hopes to bring a connection to the young girls. She said that has happened already this season because the Mariners, who have seen tremendous turnover due to graduation losses, have struggled with confidence. That is something Campbell has addressed.
"I think I'm able to relate to the girls a little bit more and kind of give them that female role model so they can come to me maybe a little more easily for advice or ask what coach meant by something and I can help elaborate," Campbell said.
Worcester said he also has told Campbell to tell him if he is going too fast in the ways he conducts himself on the field. "She is trying to learn what I do and why I do it. I tell her, 'You have to ask me because I'm not used to that.' John and I were always on the same page. He knew what I was going to do even before I did it. It is fun now because I get to teach what I believe is my philosophy to her because one of these days I am going to be hanging up the coach's hat and pass it on to her if she is interested."
Campbell said she is excited and nervous about the opportunity to be an assistant varsity coach. "There is a lot of pressure at this level," she said. "I have to fill John Frye's shoes and he is a great coach to live up to. I felt honored that Rusty chose me to be his assistant coach. Being a former player, he knows I know the way he thinks. He knows I know the way of the game. Luckily, I have seen these girls up through jayvees so I know them and their potential."
Campbell said there are things she need to learn and, thus, she is watching Worcester's every move and "picking his brain no-stop." She pays close attention to what the head coach says and does and Worcester takes time to tell her things as well.
Campbell likens it to coaching in the minor leagues, her previous experience, and now she has moved up to the major leagues. "I have to step up to the plate too as a role model and a coach," Campbell said.
While Frye will spend more time at the baseball field watching his son play, he will not stray too far away from the softball field.
"Every game I'll be taking a peek [at the softball game] and see how they're doing," Frye said. "No question about it. And have extreme interest in what's going on."
Frye said while the premise of baseball and softball are the same, the games are much different. For example, a well-pitched high school/college softball game can last less than an hour and scoring can be a precious commodity.
"Baseball's a much slower game," Frye said. "There's a lot more strategy sometimes to baseball with the base running and having to deal with pitch counts and things like that, so it's a little bit more of a chess match as opposed to a checkers match [in softball], in the long haul."
Worcester said he does not know how many more years he will coach the Mariners, but said he has been told by the student-athletes currently in junior high/middle school that he must stick around to see them graduate. He laughs and said he probably will.
As for Frye, will we see him back in the coaching fold at some point in the future?
"Never say retire," Frye said. "Just stepping away for now and we'll play it year by year."