WOODSVILLE — The shorter list might be what Mike Ackerman hasn’t accomplished.
The longtime face of Woodsville High athletics, set to retire after the school year following 41 years as boys soccer coach and 38 as athletic director, Ackerman has seen and done it all.
It’s not lost on the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA). Its membership over the summer voted Ackerman into its Hall of Fame as an administrator. He’ll be inducted along with seven others on Sunday in Concord.
“When I went for the interview that they’ll put on screen [on Sunday], afterward I said, ‘I’m going in as athletic director; is that right? Is it for soccer? They said, ‘well we debated this, and let’s just go with administrator’, so…”
The Caledonian-Record had a chat with Mike during a recent practice, in which he talked about balancing the two roles – not to mention senior class adviser – and a look back at highlights of a long career that began when he took over the Engineers boys soccer program in 1977.
Athletic directors who also coach have a full plate during their seasons on the sidelines. Are falls busier than winter or spring?
“It definitely is. The other time is basketball, with being on duty at games, but that’s not as busy as soccer,” Ackerman said. “August and September are busy times of year with preparing schedules and [getting ready to coach]. I’m lucky I have Steve here helping out,” referring to long-time assistant coach Steve Loud.
After 41 years, names and faces blend in. Still, Ackerman has certain teams which come to mind.
“I enjoyed the two years we won the championship in 2004 and ‘05, with Dimitri Kapotis, Ryan Hatch and those guys. Those were enjoyable!” In Mike Blake, the 2004 team had a goalie who’d never played the game prior to that season. “Brandon Beckley had played his freshman and sophomore year, then decided not to play his junior year. So Mike Blake stepped in and we won a championship.”
Those are one of just a few memories or teams that jump right out for Ackerman.
“The Woodsville kids have been great. Of course I enjoyed the years when my sons Ryan and Matt were playing, obviously, but I’ve had a great time coaching the Woodsville kids. We’ve had supportive parents and nice, hard-working kids.”
Ryan Ackerman graduated in 1999 as Woodsville’s top scorer until Kapotis broke the mark in the fall of 2005. His brother Matt graduated in 2002.
“Both of them played for me, Matt as a freshman and Ryan as a senior,” coach Ackerman said. “Both of them then went on to play in the same configuration for Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. “They both started in the midfield for Bentley, one as a senior. Then Ryan graduated, and came back as Bentley’s assistant coach for the next three years the whole time Matt was in college! That was fun for Glenna and I,” referring to his wife.
The mention of Glenna Ackerman didn’t stop there. “I’ve had great support from her in my coaching,” Mike said. “You can’t do it without someone who’s supportive, for as many years as I’ve done it. If I didn’t have the support from her, I wouldn’t have been able to coach this long.”
The circumstances of Kapotis’ 100th point tell much about coach Ackerman.
“He had 99 points, and at one point, I couldn’t be at our next game. So Steve [Loud] takes them up to Profile, and Dimitri didn’t want to get the 100th just yet. So Steve puts him at sweeper so he won’t score, and what happens: he chips one up front, and we almost score. So he tells Steve, ‘take me out coach, I might do something stupid! I’ll get a point, and Ackerman’s not here!’ So Steve takes him out of the game, and the next game, he gets his 100th. He didn’t want to score it unless I was there.”
Ackerman goes back to 1989 in remembering one of his top squads that included Loud’s son.
“Steve Loud Jr., Jamie Slayton and Scotty Morin scored something like 256 points,” their coach recalled. “That was probably one of the best offensive lines we’ve had. A lot of years you have one real good scorer, and maybe two, but not three like that.”
Morin scored his 100th point in that year’s championship game. “We were undefeated and so were Gilford and Hinsdale going into the tournament. We beat Hinsdale in the semis, and lost 4-1 to Gilford in the championship. Morin scored the one goal that gave him 100 points.”
Can a coach coach nowadays in the same fashion as in the mid-70s-early 80s?
“I think you have to change with the times – the Bobby Knight era is no longer,” he replied with a laugh referring to the hot-tempered ex-college hoops coach. “You have to have a solid coaching philosophy and stay with it. You gotta have a program where the kids know what to expect, and that they can believe in. Our younger kids [in the Woodsville school district] get same philosophy and instruction that older kids get.”
This season, the Engineers finished in ninth place with a 9-7 record, and opened the playoffs with a win at eighth-seeded Wilton-Lyndeborough, leading to the tall task of a quarterfinal at undefeated top-seeded Portsmouth Christian. “I’ve told the guys, nobody is unbeatable in tournament,” Ackerman said. “Portsmouth is by far the best team. [In a regular season match on Sept. 15] we lost 4-2 to them. We were losing 2-0, then tied it 2-2 — we played right with ‘em.
“You gotta be hot in the tournament,” he emphasized. “You gotta have a hot goalie and playing your best. We’ve been improving.” Sure enough, they played what he called their best game of the year Oct. 27, but couldn’t quite nick PC in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss.
Ackerman is one of eight people set for induction at Sunday’s annual NHIAA Hall of Fame Banquet at the Courtyard Marriott in Concord. Doors open at approximately 11:30 a.m. with a small reception. Lunch will be served at 12:45 p.m., and the induction ceremony begins at 1:30.
THEY SAID IT
Numerous ex-Engineers players spoke about coach Mike Ackerman at the annual preseason Mike Williams alumni games, held this year on Aug. 29. Here’s a sampling of their comments, with the names of the ex-players and what year they graduated:
Chuck Fenn, 1991: A teacher at Haverhill Corner Middle School, “coach Ackerman got me into refereeing soccer games and softball as a junior, and I’ve been doing it for 28 years,” he recalled. Ackerman is done as AD after this year but is undecided about returning to the sidelines next season. “I hope he stays around,” Fenn said.
Phil Cadreact, 2016: No one particular memory comes to mind for Phil, “and that’s because there are so many of them,” he said. “One might be when we lost our playoff game in my senior year. He told us to shrug it off, but he did it in such a way that we realized it wasn’t the end – even though it felt like it – that there was more to do after soccer. He’s a good coach not only in terms of soccer, but in that there’s more to it once it’s over.”
Kevin Briggs 2013: “Working with coach Ackerman, there’s a lot of awesome memories, but you get a lot more out of it than memories. There’s life lessons. He teaches you to work hard, and be a good role model on and off the field.”
Sam Fairfield 2016: “I didn’t start playing soccer until high school, but he always had faith in me, was always looking after me. I remember one time as a senior, he was saying how the team seemed a little sluggish that day, and he brought me up. He talked about my being manager, then playing for the JV and now the varsity and the amount of work I’d put in. It really paid off, and I really appreciated it. He’s rooting for you. He cares about his players and is right there for their development. Soccer is a competitive thing, there are only 11 spots on the team, so you gotta do everything you can to get that spot.” The bug stayed with Sam; he plays intramural college soccer.
Jeremy Wheeler, 1993: “Coach Ackerman instilled in us a killer attitude; never settle for losing and always do your best every time you step on the field. It started in practice and transpired on the field.”
John Rutherford, 1994: “The Rock, the Rock, he was a good one!” That’s how coach Ackerman greeted Rutherford at the alumni game. Himself a coach at Haverhill, “nothing really sticks out” in terms of a specific memory of WHS soccer, Rutherford said. “We lost in the semis three years in a row. All the seasons were great. Mike was a great coach, and he pushed us to be better men. All of us completely appreciate everything coach Ackerman did for us.”
Matt Taylor: The athletic director at Haverhill Middle School, Taylor moved to Woodsville in 2002. He eventually coached Oxbow for six seasons, scrimmaging Woodsville in that time. “The youth program here is fairly strong,” he said. “[Ackerman and I] touch base, and we’re definitely on the same page as far as coaching. I’m not doing many different things with the fifth-sixth grade team here, as I did with the [Oxbow] varsity. It’s all fundamentals.”
Matt Chaine, 2000: Chaine came from Fryeburg, Maine for the tournament. “I grew up right down the road from here, and played with his son Ryan. It was a privilege to play for Mr. Ackerman, and 99 percent of the student athletes would say the same thing. To see him get inducted [into the NHIAA Hall of Fame] as an administrator, he deserves it.
Dave Robinson, 2000: “He was a huge influence, and one of reasons I got into coaching myself. His influence is on so many people; you probably can’t find a player in 41 years who doesn’t have an amazing thing to say about him. He found a way to motivate players at right times. He got the most out of every player because they didn’t want to not work hard for him.” Robinson, who coached at Profile High School for nine years, recalled a game against Raymond High School in his senior year. “We tied them 1-1 here in Woodsville. They had lot more talent than we did. The Raymond coach came up to my dad afterward and told him, ‘if I could get my boys to work as hard as those Woodsville boys’…
“Coach Ackerman taught the game of soccer, but he also taught the game of life.”