“I’m a masterpiece!” echoes through the hallway in LHS where the track team is warming up for practice. Every athlete skips across the tiles, wraps their arms around themselves and repeats this line. It’s no surprise that this was one of retired Coach John Devine’s famous stretches, as it perfectly embodies the values he instilled in his team. “I used track and field as a vehicle to try to encourage students to properly prepare, to acquire some skills, and to be positive and confident,” says Coach Devine, “it wasn’t about winning.”
Coach Devine worked as a counselor at LHS for 32 years after seeing an ad for the position in the newspaper. He initially wanted to be an English teacher but says, “in college I was the freshman residence advisor for three years and we had to be trained for counseling, so I was doing it quite early in my life. My advisor said maybe I should become a social worker.” As a counselor at LHS, Coach Devine got to work in a high school setting as he’d originally planned and eventually became the head coach of track and field as well.
“I coached my children growing up and loved the experience. I didn’t start coaching here until my children were in high school,” Coach Devine says. “They encouraged me to go ahead and coach here and not worry about getting to their games.” Coach Devine brought music to his team, and a tradition students fondly remember was Coach Devine choosing a theme song to play at the beginning of practice to motivate his athletes or give them a couple moments to relax after a stressful day at school.
In both counseling and coaching, Coach Devine believes “showing kindness is the best thing you can give to a person.” Senior Alexa Weyer says, “[Coach Devine] taught me not only how to excel at such a difficult sport, but more importantly, taught me how to love myself and see the benefits of viewing the glass half full instead of half empty. There are no words to properly thank [Coach Devine] for the impact [he’s] had, and will continue to have, on my life.”
2017 LHS graduate Jacob Kelly who is now a college athlete says, “More important to [Coach Devine] than the results we got was always our motivation and enjoyment. I remember meeting with him in that dimly lit office to talk about getting an attitude that would bring success in life and in track.” Although winning was not the most important thing to Coach Devine, he says, “I’m competitive, and I’m strategic. I was always trying to put us in a position to win. If we didn’t, it was okay.” But he did win. A lot. During his career in indoor and outdoor track, he boasts 405 wins, 26 league championships, and six Western Mass titles.
“The most important statistic to me was the 4560 student athletes that stepped over a hurdle and touched my heart,” Coach Devine says. LHS alum Rachael Kraez, who graduated in 2017, says, “He made sure to spend time with every athlete to see how their day went or how their race was. He was more than just our coach, he was our best friend. Spending eight seasons of track with him was one of the best parts of high school.” After every track meet, Coach Devine would walk up and down the bus and speak to each athlete individually about how they felt their performance went, making everyone on the team feel seen and heard. Taylor McHugh, who graduated last year and runs track in college, says, “Caring, nurturing, and passionate are only three words out of many to describe Devine. On and off the track, he showed concern for my physical and mental well being, always trying to find a balance point in my life to highlight positivity that I could focus on.”
Coach Devine’s proudest moment as a coach had nothing to do with running. “I would tell my athletes that I was willing to help them in any way they needed,” says Coach Devine. “I said I would have a counseling session with the best athlete or the least motivated. The next year the least motivated athlete- she didn’t like track, she didn’t show up on time, she wasn’t invested or motivated- came to me for help. It felt like winning Western Mass.”
This year Coach Devine was inducted into the Massachusetts Coaches Hall of Fame. “When you have a person with Coach Devine’s knowledge and commitment and you combine it with someone who cares as much as he does about his athletes and school, you have a Hall of Fame coach,” says Mr. John Pantuosco, head track coach and business teacher at LHS, who worked closely with Coach Devine for many years. “I was surprised, it’s a great honor. It’s because to me the relationships we had, the give and take, is what made our teams so large and successful. But [the award] wasn’t my primary goal,” says Coach Devine
On New Year’s Eve, Coach Devine was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a chronic neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. When he was informed of his diagnosis, Coach Devine says, “I was surprisingly strong right from the get go. My wife was crushed, but she rebounded.”
Coach Devine had a difficult childhood, and he feels that positivity is something he has learned over the course of his entire life, “I had not good parenting, I had a lot of problems. In retrospect, it helped me to realize that you could rebound from that. It helped me be an effective counselor to young people who were struggling because I had to overcome a lot of it myself. There was gradual improvement in middle school, high school, and college.”
Coach Devine was given a prognosis of two to four years to live, but his strong faith keeps him from living in fear. “My basic belief is that God gave us the gift of life on earth, and because we are his children he also gives us an invitation to live with him forever, and then there is eternal life. Our life on earth is one grain of sand on the beach of eternity,” Coach Devine says. He folds his hand over an imaginary shovel and pretends to pick up a pile of sand, “Think about when you [take] a scoop, how many grains of sand there are, and then it goes under the water, people who have handicaps and problems shouldn’t get so negative because it’s just one grain of sand in terms of our total life.”
In the 65 days since his diagnosis, Coach Devine says there were 12 days where he experienced some negativity, “I try to shake it off because I want to be positive, productive, and do the best I can with my limitations. I take one day at a time, being positive, strong with God by my side.”
Coach Devine and his wife travel two hours to Boston for his appointments, and “we always stop at a restaurant and I make sure we have a date every time we go out.” Coach Devine has also planned a special trip to Montreal and Quebec for this June. “I’m going to make sure I go back to my honeymoon in a few months while I still can because I know my wife is going to have a tough load, and I want to be able to enjoy and show her how much I love her,” he says.
The most painful thing for Coach Devine is the thought of leaving his grandchildren. “I’m their playmate. Right from the moment they wake up to the moment when I tuck them in at night I play with them. We go outside, we go to the park, we play Uno or a game of spades. I love playing with them and we’re very very close,” says Coach Devine, “So that’s the most difficult because my time with them will be shortened.” Coach Devine has already planned a trip to Louisiana and Boston to see them.
Coach Devine’s diagnosis has not stopped him from the wonderful work he’s been doing since his retirement. He visits isolated and lonely people either in their homes or in nursing homes, feeds the homeless, leads scripture classes, and still counsels, mostly pro-bono. Coach Devine also leads prayer ministries and he says, “I put down, in general, all my former students and I pray for them. And sometimes different names pop up and I’ll individualize a prayer.”
Two years ago, at the last track banquet Coach Devine ever attended, he decided to play one final theme song for the team. Coach Devine says, “I played Whitney Huston’s, “I Will Always Love You.” The message I wanted to leave with all of you is that I love you. I will always love you. And that’s been true throughout. I loved what I did, and will always love the students that I counseled and coached.”’ And we will always love you, Coach Devine.
“Coach Devine was one of the most positive people I have ever met. He was always trying to get the best out of all his athletes while also realizing that they were kids too. He really loved what he did and it showed. Seeing him back at the high school still helping out with the track team after he’d been diagnosed with ALS was truly inspirational”John Quinlan ‘20
Caring, nurturing, and passionate are only three words out of many to describe Devine. On and off the track, he showed concern for my physical and mental well being, always trying to find a balance point in my life to highlight positivity that I could focus on. Through the many reassuring moments I needed, Devine always found a way to push me to my limit and bring out the best fight and determination in me during races. Thanks coach, for always telling me to pop my arms like m&m dispensers, for helping me reach new heights in my athletic career, and achieving things I never knew I was capable of.Taylor Mchugh ‘19
Coach Devine was always there for me as a coach and supporter. As a coach he pushed me to do my best each and every practice and meet. He made sure to spend time with every athlete to see how their day went or how their race was. On a personal level he was always there for me. Whether it be to talk when I had a bad day or just to bug him about what we were running a practice that day. He was more than just our coach, he was our best friend. Spending 8 season of track with him was one of the best parts of high school. Without him I wouldn’t have succeed as I did. So Coach, if you’re reading this, thanks for everything and hope all the best for you. Much love, RachaelRachel Kraez ‘17
Coach Devine was a man I was extremely lucky to have a relationship with not only as a coach, but as a friend. He was individual with all of his athletes and always very particular with the coaching queues he would give each of us. More important to him than the results we got was always our motivation and enjoyment. I remember meeting with him in that dimly lit office to talk about getting an attitude that would bring success in life and in track. I have no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it wasn’t for me crossing paths with Coach Devine. I can’t thank you enough coach, for everything you did for me, and everything you did for all of your athletes.Jacob Kelly ‘17
Coach Devine, wow. I have so much to say to you but so little words to fathom the appreciation I have for you and the sport I grew to love. You have not only taught me everything I know about track and field, but you’ve taught me many valuable lessons about myself that I will forever cherish. Track is such a difficult sport both mentally and physically, and it’s safe to say I struggled a lot mentally with the sport. You knew, not only me as a runner and person off the track, but all 80 of your athletes on the roster, which is remarkable for an individual. I believe due to how well you knew me, you were able to see through the negativity I put myself through daily, both at practice and outside of practice. With your previous career of counseling, you insisted on counseling me to get my head in the game and help my performances peak. I doubted you, but when I could no longer resist the help, you taught me to love myself and be confident in myself both on and off the track, which is something I struggled with immensely. As you taught me, it’s evident to see the differences in a runner’s performance when they’re thinking positively about themselves and the race, versus when they’re doubting. You taught me not only how to excel at such a difficult sport, but more importantly, you taught me how to love myself and see the benefits of viewing the glass half full instead of half empty. There are no words to properly thank you for the impact you have had, and will continue to have, on my life, but I hope this gives you an idea. Thank you Coach Devine for impacting, not only my life, but all your athletes.Alexa Weyer ‘20
Coach Devine is a great coach that has incredible knowledge about the subject that he is teaching, which in this case is track. However; his knowledge and commitment to his sport comes secondary to his care and concern about his players and athletes. When you have a person with Coach Devine’s knowledge and commitment and you combine it with someone who cares as much as he does about his athletes and school, you have a Hall of Fame coach. That is exactly what Coach Devine is; a person who has impacted so many lives including mine and we will always be grateful to him.John Pantusco
Coach Devine was a passionate track coach–he loved both the sport and the athletes. During his tenure, many championships were won and track records were set by his athletes. We miss him, but he has left his mark at LHS and he will be forever in all of our hearts.Christine Kervian
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This was a beautiful article! Does he have an email where I could get in touch with him? I would love to thank him for all the counseling he gave me!