Loyalty and longevity are the hallmarks of the remarkable coaching career of Bangor's Bob Kelley - virtually a Queen City Civic monument - who counts eight high school Class A state championships, 14 state final appearances and 22 Eastern Maine play-off entries among a lustrous 31 year coaching career at Bangor High School.
Bob was born in Waterville, moved to Bangor at the age of four and to nearby Veazie at 13 where he has resided ever since. Bob graduated from Bangor High School in 1954 after a sparkling baseball and basketball career as well as three summers of pastiming for the Bangor Comrades Legion team.
Bob’s baseball future looked bright after a promising freshman year at the University of Maine under the encouraging eye of Jim Butterfield (brother of head coach and U Maine legend Jack Butterfield) but a shoulder injury suffered while playing basketball robbed Bob of his ability to throw overhand and his playing career was cut short.
Though his playing days had ended, Bob's instinctive feel for the game and natural teaching ability led him into coaching a career choice of immense and enduring benefits to baseball and generations of Bangor’s young ballplayers. Upon graduation from Orono in 1959, Bob took a physical education opening at the Fifth Street Junior High at a starting salary of $3600.00 plus a $300 stipend for 3-season coaching duties and commenced his storied coaching career.
Two Fifth Street alumni who came under Bob’s tutelage were John Stubbs and Nell Waterman who later joined forces to serve as Bob’s assistant coaches at Bangor for the past 26 years.
Bob took over the head coaching job at Bangor in 1968 and soon turned a struggling program into a perennial powerhouse. “Public expectations were low when | took over the job, recalls Bob. “There was not a lot to shoot for. All I did was try to convince the good athletes to come out for baseball and give themselves a chance to play beyond that level.”
And did the good athletes ever come out for Bob Kelley! The list of notables who played for Bob reads like the Bangor Rams Hall of Fame, and more likely than not, includes a state championship beside his name.
The first state title came in 1971 and featured WCSH sportscaster Bill Green at third and Bangor Daily News sports writer Larry Mahoney in center field.
The 1974 champs were led by brothers Peter and Paul McCarty (whom Bob rates as his most naturally gifted athletes) and Mike Edwards and Kevin Leen.
Tom Vanidestine and Bubba Boyce anchored the Rams’ highly respected program in the mid 1970s.
Bob again led the Rams to Class A supremacy in 1982 and 1985, bolstered by Ail-States Dan Philippon and Chuck Nadeau respectively.
1994 produced perhaps Bob’s most talented nine and the first of a remarkable streak of four consecutive state titles. Matt Kinney, Mark McEwen, Tony Fernandez, Eric Murray and Tommy Waterman were the mainstays of Bangor’s unrivaled dominance in the 1990s.
Bob retired from teaching this year but plans to remain at the coaching helm for at least a few more seasons. For this easy-going, self-effacing legend whose coaching career moves seamlessly from decade to decade, that should be a snap.
The Maine Baseball Hall of Fame is indeed proud to welcome to its ranks the dean, chancellor and chairman of the board of high school coaches - Bob Kelley.
Bangor High baseball’s success is Bob Kelley’s legacy
June 20, 2017
By Bob Cimbollek
While listening to the Bangor-Falmouth baseball state class A championship game Saturday afternoon on the radio, I couldn’t help think about how Bangor High School has been so successful over the years with their teams in their 102 state championships is because many of those 102 state championship teams were coached by former Bangor high athletes in the sport they played at Bangor.
They then went on to coach that same team to championships. Baseball is an excellent example of this process of success. It was 20 years to the day that Bangor won it’s fourth consecutive State Class A baseball championship from 1994-97 under Bob Kelley.
Kelley, my lifelong friend, was a former outstanding center fielder and hitter for Bangor under coach Red Barry. Kelley, a physical education teacher and baseball coach at 5th Street Junior High school was named the baseball coach at Bangor by Athletic Director Barry for the 1969 season.
Since 1970 when baseball had 4 classes Bangor has won 13 state class A Championships including the four year consecutive state championship run from 1994-97 under Coach Kelley.
Kelley would go on and win 8 state championships and 15 Eastern Maine A championships in his 31 year career before he retired in 2000.
Athletic Director Steve Vanidestine, a former outstanding Bangor baseball player himself, who played for Kelley named Jeff Fahey, an outstanding center fielder for Bangor who also played for Kelley and was the Bangor High JV coach as the head coach to replace Kelley in 2001.
Jeff Fahey would go on and win 4 state Class A baseball championships in his 15 years coaching the Rams. He had won 3 consecutive state Class A championships in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
When Fahey retired after the 2016 season, Athletic Director Steve Vanidestine, again reached into the Bangor baseball alumni connection when he named 7 year Bangor high assistant baseball Coach David Morris, a former outstanding Bangor high catcher for Coach Kelley in the early 80’s to coach the Rams in there attempt to win 4 states in a row for the 2nd time.
Morris also coached the Bangor American Legion team to two state championships in 2014 and 2015 and a state runnersup position last summer in 2016.
What did Morris do, just lead the Rams to their fourth consecutive state class A baseball championship.
So all of Bangor’s baseball success since 1970 has been coached by former Bangor High graduates, former Bangor high baseball players and all who were coaching baseball in the Bangor school system when named the head coach.
So Bangor has always seemed to look to fill coaching positions from within first and if they had a assistant, JV, freshmen or middle school coaches that the AD’s thought could do the job they hired from within.
Since 1970 the 2 athletic directors (Barry and Vanidestine) have hired former Bangor baseball players for the head job and look how that has paid off in 13 state championships and 2 consecutive 4 year runs.
I know when I was AD at Bangor and John Bapst that I always tried to hire from within. I really looked to reward loyalty and if the coach was a former Bangor or John Bapst athlete or coach. the better the hire was.
AD Vanidestine, who replaced me (and I was a former Bangor High Basketball player 1952-55 and basketball coach from 1969-77) as AD in 1986, has also employed the same hiring philosophy and he has led Bangor to 68 of those 102 state championships over the years in his 30 plus years as BANGOR’s AD and the AD with the second longest consecutive years run as a Maine AD.
Bob Kelley is still positively effecting the success of the Bangor High Baseball program even though he has been retired for 17 years, former players of winning coaches usually use many of the things that they learned from their successful high school coach when they played in their coaching techniques when they go into coaching.
Bob Kelley is now the great-grandfather of successful Bangor High School Baseball seeing that two of his boys have won state championships since he left the program.