From Player to Coach: A Bobcat’s Way Home

The end of an athletic journey for high school athletes is marked by the final buzzer, the last out, or the ball hitting the court one last time. Most Oyster River athletes will never again wear “Bobcats” across their chest or ride a bus up Route 4 to play in a rivalry game. This includes the vast majority of former student athletes, with the exception of a few. Those who come back to continue chasing state championships and spend even more time attempting to master the art of sleeping while on a bus ride to Hanover. These former athletes don’t return in their former role however. They return to a new role, as coaches.

In the past decade, Oyster River athletics has seen a growing occurrence: student athletes returning to the programs they once competed for. Currently, ORHS alumni can be seen on the sidelines of 10 sports, spanning all three seasons. When I first observed this trend across multiple of our athletic programs at Oyster River, I was very intrigued. I looked at some of the most memorable or influential coaches in my life and realized that they were often former Oyster River athletes. I was interested in seeing why so many athletes wanted to return as coaches and what impact they had on the community. So, I asked. I talked with a handful of coaches to see why they returned to Oyster River, as well as with administrators, coaches, and athletes to see what impact these coaches have.

One of the biggest impacts they have is on their athletes. These coaches have played on the same fields, been in the same classrooms, and had many of the same teachers as many of their students-athletes. Andy Lathrop, Oyster River High School Athletic Director, talked about how valuable coaches who return to their programs are. “They know and understand the culture of the school. They understand the community and what its like to be an athlete here,” Lathrop said.

Administrators and athletes alike have seen the immense impact that these coaches can have. They are able to connect with their athletes in ways that other coaches can not. Emily Shuman (‘20) has had multiple track coaches who have formerly competed for Oyster River. She said that, “coaches who have previously gone to Oyster River bring a perspective that the other coaches can’t. They come in knowing exactly how we feel because they did it themselves not too long ago.”

Many of these alumni return to work with their former head coaches. In the past few years, both boys basketball as well as track and field has seen numerous athletes come back to work with head coaches, Lorne Lucas and Nick Ricciardi, respectively. “I look at the basketball situational and see that [half] of the coaches played for Lorne. That tells me they had a great experience with him and they learned a lot about coaching from him,” said Lathrop.

This past season, four of the five coaches on staff for the boys basketball team were former players: Paul Bamford, Zach Lewis, Peter Antognetti, and Devin Sawtelle. Kyle Landrigan (‘19), captain of the boys basketball team, noted that these coaches are invaluable to the program. “It’s great having coaches that played for Coach Lucas because they know the playbook by heart and can help all the young guys learn it.”

This continuity that occurs in the basketball program can also be seen on the track team. Ricciardi has seen 5 of his former track athletes return as coaches in the last couple of years. Ricciardi said that these coaches, “know the program and culture. They know how things run, the expectations, and the responsibilities of both the coaches and the athletes.”

I talked with 5 of these former athletes and asked them a series of questions about how they got into coaching, their favorite high school memories, and ultimately what made them want to return to Oyster River as coaches.

Nicole Casimiro (‘06)

In her second year as head coach of the girls varsity basketball team, Casimiro returns to Oyster River after going undefeated and winning the state championship her senior season. Casimiro continued her athletic career at Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts. Casimiro is revitalizing a program that has seen a nine win increase between her first two seasons as head coach. She noted that the largest factor for her wanting to return was to be able to give back. “I felt compelled to give back to the community that gave me so much. I know how much a coach can affect you, for better or for worse, and I wanted to be able to give students a positive experience that they can remember and then carry over to others,” she said. While in high school, Casimiro also ran cross country and track. Beyond the state championship campaign and undefeated season, Casimiro recalls her favorite high school memories as the, “bus rides, team sleepovers, spaghetti dinners, and breakfast trips.”

Zach Lewis (‘10)

Lewis joined the boys basketball coaching staff after a high school career ending in state championship defeat. “That night we lost, I told myself I’d be back to help a team win the championship,” he said. Lewis just concluded his third season as a part of the boys basketball coaching staff. While at Oyster River, Lewis found a sense of family that he wanted to foster in the next generation. “It’s one of the greatest things about that bond between teammates. It doesn’t matter if you hated each other off the court, you were family on it. That sense of family was something that disappeared from ORHS for a while,” said Lewis. After graduation, Lewis attended St. Joe’s College of Maine where he pursued a degree in English Literature and Secondary English. Lewis noted rivalry games against Coe Brown as his most memorable moments while competing at Oyster River.

Cassandra Sweatt (‘01)

Sweatt was a two sport athlete at Oyster River, playing both volleyball and softball. She returned to coach the girls volleyball team. She credits her high school coach as a large contributor for her desire to coach. “He was this little tiny man who remains one of the greatest influences on my life. He had a way of commanding respect and getting you to perform to your highest level, all while letting us continue to love the game we were playing. I think he was my inspiration for wanting to coach,” she said. Sweatt joined the former head coach as an assistant and made the natural transition to head coach upon his departure. While at Oyster River, Sweatt recalls her softball team’s improbable playoff run as one of her favorite memories. “We were the 16th seed and played Somersworth, our number one rival and the 1st seed. We beat them! We then went on to beat the number five seed before being eliminated. It was a great group of girls who never gave up.”

Peter Antognetti (‘15)

Antognetti took a more indirect route back to Oyster River. As a recent graduate of UNH, Antognetti did the entirety of his coaching responsibilities as a full time student. He was originally hired by former athletic director, Corey Parker, to run the clock at both middle school and high school games. Antognetti was then approached by his former coach about the reserve coaching position. “I never thought the opportunity would present itself so early on in life, but there was no way I could pass up the chance to get my coaching start at my alma mater. That’s the dream job for any coach, regardless of the level,” he said. Similar to many others, Antognetti’s favorite high school athletic memories are of victorious rivalry games. He recalls coming off of the opponent’s court saying, “there was no better feeling than walking off their home court, leaving their student section silenced.”

Kai Beaton (‘09)

Beaton, the boys assistant varsity soccer coach, caught the coaching bug after he was invited to one practice by then assistant varsity soccer coach and former ORHS teammate Jake Baver. “During that first practice, I felt an immediate rapport with the team and knew it was going to be something special. As time progressed, I found my role as a player’s coach. I was someone to keep the emotional psychology of the team functioning, someone to listen, someone to motivate, and someone to be a conduit between coaches and players,” he said. He competed in soccer, lacrosse, and cross country while at Oyster River. Beaton was a part of many successful teams and championship runs while at Oyster River, but he says what stands out the most are the, “lasting memories, the relationships, and life lessons gained through the experience.” Beaton concluded by saying, “the reasons which compelled me back the most were those of community, a love for teaching, and a desire to put my energy towards helping others.”

Coaches return to Oyster River for a wide range of reasons. Whether it be a lifelong desire to be on the sidelines or one practice that developed into many more, student athletes seem to be finding their way back to the high school to take on new roles as coaches. Lathrop concluded by saying ultimately it is, “a testament to the quality of the programs [at Oyster River] and the experience [athletes] had when they were here.”