HARWICH ─ In the nearly 50 years since Cheryl Poore began coaching field hockey in Harwich, she has become something of a legend in the sport. That era came to an end this week when Poore officially resigned from her head coaching post at Monomoy Regional High School.
“When I first started coaching it was a very different time,” Poore said regarding her reason for stepping down. “Today, the roles of teachers and coaches in public schools are so severely micromanaged that it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve one’s goals.”
She declined to comment further about the reasons for her resignation.
Poore’s storied history in Harwich began in 1971 when she became the field hockey coach at Harwich High School, rejuvenating a challenged program, albeit with some bumps in the road that included Poore booting a cadre of misbehaving seniors off the team for insubordination.
She soon became well respected, earning the trust of countless players, leading them through stringent summer field hockey camps and in-season practices to help develop skills and form bonds to last a lifetime.
“Had I been in a really large school in a large community I might not have felt that connection,” Poore said. “When you’ve got people you coached and now they’re saying, ‘Please wait for my daughter,’ well, I did.”
Indeed, Poore has coached numerous siblings, mothers and daughters through the years, all with the aim of encouraging the young women on her teams to strive for excellence.
“My focus in coaching is to develop capable young women through a disciplined, balanced, challenging and respectful program,” Poore said in both her letter of resignation and in a statement to The Chronicle. “It is a program that rejects ‘good enough’ and instead pursues excellence for the benefit of each individual.”
Poore said she made it an annual tradition to ask player parents each fall at a team dinner to trust her process and not rush to assumptions when her taxing practices have players feeling they can’t do it.
“I assure them that the outcomes, the fun, and bonding certainly will eclipse the hard work,” Poore said.
While some ultimately appreciated said hard work, Poore admits that not everyone was a fan, and Poore was labeled negatively in some circles. Though known for her intense coaching, Poore leaves behind her a wealth of past players that still keep in touch. Emma Fernandez, who returned to Harwich from Florida to serve as Poore's assistant coach, said that while demanding, Poore’s dedication proved life changing for her.
Fernandez, who is also departing Monomoy along with junior varsity coach Addie Weeks and longtime assistant coach Donna Smith, told the crowd at the end-of-season team banquet on Saturday that Poore and the sport of field hockey helped her earn a scholarship to Michigan State, something she said wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Overall, Poore has coached players who went on to full rides at Harvard, Duke, Ball State, Purdue, St. Louis, and Southern Illinois. There was also a quartet of players on a Division II team that won a national championship.
But winning, Poore said, wasn’t necessarily the end goal.
“I think even the coaches from some other leagues think it’s about having a winning program,” Poore said. “Winning is just an outcome. It’s about developing capable young people. It’s about giving them skills, convincing them that they can do anything.”
For Poore that meant suing Harwich High for discrimination in 1998 when she was passed over for a softball coaching position. Poore said she was inspired to forge ahead with the suit partly because of her players.
“I was going to let it go, and then I said to myself, ‘I can’t do that,’” she said. “I’ve been teaching them to be strong women, to never take a seat when they should take a stand, and I said, ‘I have to do this. I have to do this for them.’”
The case lasted 10 years, with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination finding in Poore's favor, though Poore said the process took an emotional toll.
“People don’t seek out the truth, so I took a beating in the newspapers and on the radio with nothing related to the facts,” she said. “I stuck with it, and I think that was a message to the kids.”
It is the kids that made Poore’s decision to step down so difficult.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Poore said. “I love the kids and I love the kids that are coming up. I was so excited because next year is a clean slate. There are only three seniors and two juniors, and the rest are all underclassmen. That was very appealing to me to shape that group. But I also realize that my coaching style is very different.”
Poore admits that she is outspoken.
“I was born with a voice. I took stands all my life when other people wouldn’t,” she said. “One thing I tried to teach young people about overcoming adversity is that you have to know that you can stand alone, because most of the time when you turn around and look behind you, all those people that have been giving you lip service, they’re no longer there.”
Something that has seen her through life’s challenges, Poore said, is her unwavering faith.
“Lots of prayer and lots of people who support me with prayer is how I think I’ve survived,” she said.
Poore considers her time as coach (softball and field hockey) and teacher (health and phys ed) a “sacred privilege,” and said she intends to expand her Cape Cod Reach Field Hockey Camp with help from Fernandez, Weeks and Smith.
“My coaching staff is committed to finding something new and they’re going to be with me,” Poore said. “We’re probably going to do some clinics where we’re teaching coaches. We really want to do something with leadership.”
When it comes to her players, she’ll be there.
“I’m going to be around,” she said. “I’ve always felt I was supposed to be in this community, and I felt that when the door was closing I would know. I think the door had to hit me real hard before I knew, ‘Hey, try a new venue.’”
Monomoy Principal Bill Burkhead said he wishes Poore well.
“I would like to thank Coach Poore for her years of service to our student athletes, staff, community and school,” he wrote in an email. “She has had a positive impact on generations of field hockey players and has put our school on the map as a perennial field hockey powerhouse. I wish Coach Poore the best in her future endeavors.”
Though her heart is heavy at bidding Monomoy goodbye, Poore said she fully intends to carry on.
“I’ve been like the clown toy that has sand in its butt. You knock it over and it bounces back. That kind of perseverance, I think I was born with it.”