With 227 wins and 22 seasons under his belt, Tom McCabe has every reason to boast. But that's not who he is.
This season marks the final strolls down the sidelines for the 59-year-old head coach of the men's lacrosse team. In October, McCabe and his wife, Pat, will leave more than just Bowdoin behind as they depart on a 24-month commitment to the Peace Corps. They have been scheming about this adventure since college, but just turned in their final applications and medical forms.
"It's something we've been talking about for years," said McCabe. "Life took over though. We got married, had jobs—it just wasn't a reality."
McCabe's relationship with his children, another thing he could boast about if he was of the mind, also prevented him from taking a two-year hiatus prior to now.
During his first 11 years at Bowdoin, McCabe also assistant coached the football team, which he gladly gave up to spend more time with his family. His children Jenna, 26, and Ben, 24, grew up with their father at their own lacrosse games. Both went on to play D-I lacrosse.
"We were the backyard where everyone in town came to play lacrosse," laughed McCabe, who lives just behind Pickard baseball field. "Those fields became our backyard."
McCabe, who played lacrosse and football at Springfield College, not too far from his hometown in western Massachusetts, often emphasizes the rewards of athletics both for his children and in his own life.
"Without athletics, I have no idea where I'd be," he said. "I always knew I wanted to coach and share my love of sport."
McCabe graduated from Springfield in 1976 with a physical education degree, assistant coached at his alma mater, and then coached at Rutgers. He finally settled at Bridgton Academy, a private all-male post-grad school in Maine where he was head coach for 11 years.
When he came to Bowdoin in the fall of 1989, McCabe realized what it was that he loved about coaching.
"The biggest thing about the move was suddenly being able to spend four years with people and watching them transgress into adulthood—showing up not shaving and leaving as men," he said.
McCabe inherited a strong program, the legacy of his predecessor Mort LaPointe's 21 years at the College, and he quickly achieved success, winning the ECAC Championship in 1993 and later again in 2001. McCabe also led the Polar Bears to 10 NESCAC tournament appearances, and finally to the NCAA tournament in 2008. He compiled a .649 winning percentage over his 22 seasons.
With a March 24 win over Hamilton, McCabe made Bowdoin lacrosse history, passing LaPointe with his 219th career win. Heading into this weekend, he has 227 victories to his name—the most in the program's history and the 15th highest in D-III history.
Of all these victories, it is hard for him to choose his favorite, but it is the exciting games that really get McCabe going. For instance, he remembers Bowdoin's close matchup with Colby two years ago in the NESCAC tournament, when the Polar Bears scored two goals in just 40 seconds.
McCabe is not one to be seen throwing a fit on the sidelines when he gets excited, said Athletic Director Jeff Ward with a laugh. Ward has worked closely alongside McCabe for the past 15 years.
"He's pretty calm. He doesn't get rattled very often and he's not a yeller and a screamer in a sport that has a fair number of yellers and screamers," said Ward.
Notable lacrosse alumni under McCabe include former captain Tom McKinley '06, Henry Andrews '10, who now serves as an assistant coach under McCabe, and Owen "Kit" Smith '11, who recently scored his first goal for the Boston Cannons, a professional lacrosse team.
What McCabe admits, though, is that "a lot of the memorable things have nothing to do with lacrosse. They really don't. Getting a birth announcement in the mail from one of your players or having the next one become a doctor—that's payback for me."
He fondly remembers PJ Prest '02, who taught Sunday school with his wife in town, and Pat James, Boomer Repco and Dave Donahue, who all went on to serve as Marine officers.
Coincidentally, when a Peace Corps recruiter came to Bowdoin last year, McCabe was not the only one interested. Russ Halliday '11, last season's captain and top scorer, has also entered the Peace Corps, and leaves for South America in a matter of weeks.
While the couple has been accepted into the Peace Corps, they are still unaware of their ultimate destination, which should be revealed to them within the coming weeks. While applicants have the option of requesting certain areas initially, the McCabes left it up to chance, as people over 50 make up less than 5 percent of the already competitive program.
What they do know is that they are headed to an African country, where McCabe will work with at-risk youth, while his wife will specialize in education and outreach.
While McCabe will not be coaching lacrosse there, his dedication to youth development will aid him in his goals with the Peace Corps, explained Ward.
"I think that his concern for people is the connection. It does not surprise me at all that he would be looking to do this generous thing with Pat. I still remember going to his house for dinner my first week at Bowdoin. It was such a welcoming experience" Ward said.
This generosity is what McCabe's players have seen every day, and is what he hopes what they will remember.
"You know, I think if they remember me as someone who always put the players first, I'll be happy—with that, their education and development. Beyond anything else," said McCabe.
McCabe believes that this desire for more than just athletic development came out of coaching at Bowdoin.
"When I arrived here, I thought I had all the answers. It's funny, but the older you grow, the more you get to realizing how little you know. And with that comes the perspective on what's important. Long hair is not a big deal anymore like it was then," he laughed. "It's more about substance."
Ward agrees that McCabe's legacy will extend beyond the lacrosse field as he says goodbye to Bowdoin.
"His genuine concern for his players resonated with everything that he did. He has great balance in his life—he's a passionate coach, an avid fisherman, a family man, and he gives back to the community. That's not a bad legacy," said Ward.
Until then, though, McCabe's season is not yet complete and he has high hopes for what he believes to be one of the best ones yet. He was named NESCAC Coach of the Year for the first time earlier this week, and his team has the possibility of winning the conference this weekend.
"I hope we can keep playing right through graduation," he added. "Stay healthy, get lucky, and hope that the ball bounces the right way."
At a recent dinner honoring his work, McCabe quoted Lou Gehrig in his closing statement: "I consider myself the luckiest man in the world."
McCabe laughs at the thought.
"He said this on his way out—the big shindig, his final words. I'm no Lou Gehrig, but it's a pretty meaningful statement. That's how I feel."