Things began with a fish story.
As is often the case, though, this fish story turned into something bigger.
Two fishermen, trolling a river back in my native Maine, landed a pretty big fish and threw it back.
No biggie, right? Happens every day in lakes and streams and rivers everywhere.
What they didn’t realize, though, was the fallfish they had caught might have set a state record. Fallfish—also known as chubs—are considered a trash fish, so the anglers wanted little to do with it and threw it back.
The photo is what caught my eye.
Holding the fish—which measured anywhere between 22 to 24 inches, and 3.5 to 4-plus pounds–was a gentleman in a blue windbreaker.
He was identified as Joe Vachon of Toronto, Canada.
I looked at the name. I looked at the face.
Could it be him?
Back in my elementary school days, I went to school with a kid named Joe Vachon.
While we were never really friends, Joe has remained on the historic radar of my life for the simple reason he is the only person I had ever “fought” in my life.
It was fourth or fifth grade, from what I remember, and who knows what predicated the so-called “fight.”
From what I recall some four decades (and more) later is it was more of our classmates wanting us to fight about something stupid, so at recess it was set up.
The showdown. Boy vs. Boy. Mano et mano. Until the blood flowed. Or, until the bell rang.
As far as fights go, it was anticlimactic.
I remember both of us being very tentative and not even wanting to be there.
If we had been in Las Vegas, with a big crowd that had paid good money to watch us brawl, we’d have been booed.
I think when we both finally threw that tentative first punch, we connected fists and it hurt.
End of fight.
It was a draw.
All of a sudden on a Tuesday morning, there was Joe Vachon holding a fish high into the Maine air.
I looked at the picture again.
Was that really him?
In the 21st century, when you want to know what happened to somebody the first thing you do is turn to Facebook.
I typed in Joe’s name and the first person who turned up wasn’t the fisherman from Toronto.
Instead, it was the IT Director and girls varsity basketball coach at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy in New Hampshire.
I looked at that photo and, in that face, I saw my old school mate.
He wasn’t the fisherman. He was a coach.
Life is a funny thing.
Each of us travels our own paths over the years.
Some stay parallel to each other. Others drift away.
Some zig and zag and overlap time and time again.
Joe moved away to New Hampshire at some point during our school years, though I don’t exactly remember when.
He graduated from White Mountains Regional High School, attended Lyndon State College in Vermont and was hired at Coe-Brown in 2008.
His coaching career started one year later.
My path and Joe’s path could have intersected a second time if life hadn’t intervened.
I know Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. I know it well.
When I was coaching girls basketball at Oyster River High School in Durham, New Hampshire, we played Coe-Brown.
When I was the sports editor at Foster’s Daily Democrat, Coe Brown was in our coverage area.
When I was a basketball official, I refereed games at Coe-Brown.
Had I stayed in New Hampshire, our paths would have definitely crossed once again.
In his first year as the varsity coach, Joe coached Coe-Brown to an undefeated state championship during the 2014-15 season and I would have been there to cover it.
Alas, I moved on and he moved in and we missed each other by four or five years.
Until a fisherman caught a fish, another fisherman took a picture of it and a writer wrote about it.
Wrong Joe Vachon, but it led me to the right one.
During my research into what happened to Joe, I also found this.
One of his former players once wrote, “For those of you who do not Vachon very well, he is the most kind-hearted coach you will ever meet. He never wanted anything less than the best for us and he worked every day to make sure we received the best coaching we could possibly have. Throughout our four years of basketball, he wasn’t just trying to make us better basketball players, but also trying to make us better people.”
I’m proud of Joe and pleased to find is he doing, so well.
To give back to the youth of tomorrow is a pretty awesome thing to do, the impact everlasting.
He might not have caught a big fish, but he’s changing the world.
And, that’s a story to tell.
• • •
(Author’s Note-Top photo of Joe Vachon appears courtesy of Foster’s Daily Democrat)