In eighth grade, Bill Tompkins found himself at the end of the bench on the varsity basketball team at Boothbay Region (Maine), forced to watch his older teammates from the sidelines.
Instead of growing bitter over the lack of playing time, Tompkins, who would eventually get his chance on the court, watched as his coach, Pete Mahaney, taught the game with a passion that made him impossible not to respect.
Ultimately, Tompkins’s future was in baseball, but it was on that bench almost 50 years ago that he made the decision to someday become a coach.
On Monday, Tompkins recorded his 500th career win as the varsity baseball coach at Walpole High as the Rebels breezed past Natick, 15-5.
“Well, the win gets us off to a 3-0 start,” said the 60-year-old Tompkins, who has always tried to make sure the story is about his players and not himself. “I’m proud of the way these kids have played. We’ve only made two errors in three games so far this season, that’s exciting.”
Eventually Tompkins, a Springfield College grad, talked about the milestone, saying, “It’s been an honor to have coached at Walpole for so long. All I’ve ever wanted to do was teach and coach. So really, my dreams came true.”
Tompkins didn’t tell the Rebels of his approaching mark until after the win was secured, choosing to avoid adding any pressure to a league game.
The Rebels pounded out 13 hits and 15 runs for their 34-year skipper, with junior southpaw Mike Gaughan tossing six innings of four-run, eight-strikeout ball to record his second win of the season.
Junior third baseman Cam Hanley knocked in four runs, while seniors Matt Lavanchy, whose father, Gene, played for Tompkins, and Craig Hanley each had three hits and two RBIs of their own.
Upon hearing of their coach’s achievement, the Rebels presented Tompkins with a resounding round of applause and a game ball.
“I was touched by their reaction,” said Tompkins, also the school’s athletic director since 2009. “The spontaneous applause they gave me just made my day. They really had no idea, to see how they reacted meant a lot to me.”
The varsity coach since 1979, Tompkins could not be happier with how it’s all turned out.
“Tomorrow I’ll be back at it with them starting at 6:15 in the morning trying to get win number 501,” he said.