Souhegan legends honored

It really wasn’t about fame at a little soiree in Concord last Sunday.

Sure, they do call it the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Hall of Fame, but it’s more about dedication and accomplishment.

And, some cases, like Souhegan alum and current Princeton University head women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart, paying tribute to your roots.

“I’ll always say yes to coming home,” said Banghart, who coached Princeton’s season opener on Friday night, then hopped on a plane Sunday morning to be in Concord for the annual ceremony that also,honored longtime Sabers track coach John Eastman among the eight inductees.

You’ve got to admire Banghart, who was also chosen to give the post-ceremony address. She helped put Souhegan on the map athletically with her incredible exploits in soccer, basketball and tennis. She is simply a winner, 6-for-8 in combined soccer and hoop crowns, still holds the state record of 56 goals in a season. She’s gone on to fabulous things, over 200 wins as a college coach, five Ivy League titles, and numerous NCAA tourney appearances. Yet Sunday’s ceremony was as important to her as her Tigers’ 72-52 win over George Washington on Friday night.

Banghart said that was because she walked in and had so many family, former teammates, coaches, etc. greet her. “This state has been so good to me,” she said. “Every time I come back, I’m greeted so warmly. Every time I’m asked, I run back.

“It’s important that I’m here, because these people are always here for me.”

Banghart says the human element is what stands out to her from her Souhegan memories. Let’s face it, she helped put what has become one of the best athletic programs in the state on the map.

“It had just started,” she said. “To put it in its place, right to start, I got lucky to have that opportunity. … And to win as many as we did, you had to have really good teammates.”

Banghart won so much while at Souhegan that the few losses almost stand out more than all the victories. She credits the development of the program to the work former Saber athletic director Bill Dod did. “He didn’t mess around when he hired coaches,” she said. “People of character, people of sportsmanship, people who understood how to share their athletes.

“He championed women’s sports. I mattered there. That was really cool. He made my success important, and not just that it was high school, or the women’s side. So I felt like what I did mattered.”

Which is why she wanted Dod at her table durng the ceremony.

“Absolutely,” she said. “And I learned a lot from being in a small town. When you’re in a small town, you can’t hide. So how you treat people, the success, the failure, who you’re surounded by – you can’t say stupid things. I almost feel like I’m in a much bigger world now. But I’m still the hometown girl, who wants to do and say the right thing.”

Sunday was a big day for Souhegan. Dod was beaming, because he still talks about Banghart as an athletic role model to his current Saber baseball players.

“When you think of the Baltimore Orioles, you think of Cal Ripken,” Dod said. “When I think of Souhegan athletics after 25, 26 years, Courtney Banghart is the role model. She’s the one I would like all the athletes to act like on and off the field.”

Dod also hired the ever-humble Eastman after his 27 years of success at Kearsarge, an all Eastman has done is run a solid program for 18 years.

“I was thrilled when John Eastman gave me a call and said he wanted to work at Souhegan High School,” Dod said. “It was an unbelievable surprise for me. … For him to come down, drive an hour and a half every day. What he did in turning the cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track program into what it is today. … He just deserves this. He’s affected track not just at Kearsarge and Souhegan but just all the state.”

What did the honor mean to Eastman? “Keep working,” he said with a chuckle. “Two weeks from now we begin, and I’m looking forward to it. But it’s always nice to be recognized by the people you work with.”

Even former Nashua South/Pelham/Bishop Guertin track coach Art Demers, another inductee, brought up his days working in Amherst while coaching.

He brought the house down on Sunday with his amusing anecdotes, which included the story of when he was street sweeping for the town of Amherst to make extra money while he was coaching at Nashua, that he sometimes would take the street sweeper to meets.

These kinds of ceremonies are a time when many reflect on what they’v done or accomplished. For example, Banghart said she had no idea she’d become a career coach when she was competing as a Saber.

“Noooo,” she said. “There’s nothing else I should be doing, probably, but I had no idea it would be such a vocation back then. But it’s the right thing for me to be doing. I’m living the dream.”

Banghart and many others who were in attendance on Sunday.

That’s what the event was all about. Fame was just a by-product, as well as a great excuse to come back home for Courtney Banghart.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.

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