His smile — that “wow, you did an awesome job” smile — never left Chris Libby’s face on Saturday.
It was the kind of day a coach dreams about, the one where his athletes run, jump and throw to expectations on the way to a track and field state championship.
Orono High School took advantage of its talent, versatility and camaraderie to sweep the Class C titles on Saturday at Yarmouth High School. For the Red Riot girls, it was their fourth consecutive outdoor championship.
The architect of the success is Libby, an Orono High math teacher and veteran coach who for 12 years has poured his heart and soul into the program.
The Brewer High School and University of Maine graduate learned about the intricacies of the sport from a staff directed by former Witches head coach Dave Jeffrey.
A track meet is a whirlwind of activity where athletes are spread across a huge space warming up for and participating in their respective events. Even with all the organized chaos, it is impossible not to notice Libby’s interactions with students.
He is sometimes prodding a runner to get ready for an upcoming race, while at other times he is trying to monitor a sprinter and a jumper who are competing simultaneously.
Libby is fully invested in his athletes, not only in their physical preparation but in their mental approach to competition. He and his assistant coaches study, plan and scheme to put the Red Riots in the best position to win by capitalizing on the diverse skills of team members.
On paper, the Orono girls were a prohibitive favorite to win on Saturday, but the athletes stressed having a mentality of going out and earning it.
The boys squad was more of a surprise, given the considerable graduation losses from the 2014 squad. The athletes bought into Libby’s philosophy, worked tirelessly to improve and demonstrated the results of their efforts.
When an event ended — often with Orono competitors at or near the top of the scoring sheet — Libby was there to offer his congratulations. Yet those high-fives and handshakes weren’t limited to his own team members.
Libby, who keenly follows track and field statewide, recognized outstanding performances by athletes from all over. He has a kinship with and a profound respect for those who are willing to put in the time and effort to reach their potential.
By its nature, track and field is an individual sport. Athletes often are working alone on techniques and mechanics to maximize their level of performance.
Even so, Libby and his staff place the emphasis on the team dynamic. It seems to be more an attitude of “what can I do to help the team?”
Junior Lauren Stoops won three individual events and competed on Orono’s victorious 4×400 relay team on Saturday.
“When I was in my individual events I was more nervous than in my team event because I didn’t want to let my team down,” she explained. “I’m competing for them, trying to help them, so that they get to where they want to go.”
“It’s all for the name on the front of the uniform,” Libby said.
And even as they clutched their first-place medals, basking in the joy of having won a state championship, Orono athletes gave the credit for the team’s success to their coach.
“It would be easy to say, oh, I’m just going to worry about my events, forget about everyone else,” said junior Jake Koffman. “(Libby) gets everyone into each other’s events.”
Libby is quick to point out that he is blessed to work alongside other dedicated coaches who share his passion for the sport, including Lin White, Steve Dexter and Miguel Caballero.
“I think that the coaching staff is absolutely phenomenal and they really make us a team. We are all family,” said junior Tristan Butterfield.
Orono earned many awards on Saturday, but it is two banners that Libby will cherish most. The Red Riots were honored as the winners of the Eastern Maine Class A Sportsmanship Awards — as voted on by their fellow athletes and coaches.
Following the lead of their head coach, the Red Riots are able keep their considerable success in the proper perspective.