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  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Campbell High School baseball coach Jim Gorham heads back to the dugout after coaching first base during a game Friday, April 13, 2012, in Litchfield.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Campbell High School baseball coach Jim Gorham, right, shouts to his infielders during a game Friday, April 13, 2012, in Litchfield. He has won three state titles in 11 years. At left is assistant coach John Hartling.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Campbell High School baseball coach Jim Gorham talks to his team between innings during a game Friday, April 13, 2012, in Litchfield.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Campbell High School head baseball coach Jim Gorham, left, and assistant coach John Hartling watch their infield from the dugout during a game Friday, April 13, 2012. Gorham has won three state titles in 11 years.
Monday, April 16, 2012

Campbell’s old school coach gets timeless results

LITCHFIELD – He didn’t exactly point to a spot over the outfield fence, a la Babe Ruth, but 11 years ago Campbell High School baseball coach Jim Gorham made quite an impression.

The Cougars, in their infancy, were nearly no-hit by Pelham in their first varsity game ever and then only had three hits in another loss to Newmarket. So Gorham, in his first year at Campbell, decided he was going to show his team how to hit. They laughed when he missed the first pitch. The next one he put over the fence.

“I got their attention,” he said.

And he’s had it ever since. Gorham, now 57, has used his old school approach to create one of the area’s most successful baseball programs, winning two state titles in three finals appearances, six semifinal trips, and just one losing season. He just says his teams have followed the lead of the Cougars’ successful athletic program.

“Every year they (the community) keeps sending us players,” he said. “For a small town like Litchfield, to have a high school program this consistent, is amazing. You look at Campbell, and it’s hard to find a program that doesn’t compete, and compete well.”

Baseball certainly leads the way, and what’s incredible is that the players seem to respond to Gorham’s blunt approach, reflecting his South Boston roots.

“I’m old school,” Gorham said. “One of my players once said to me, ‘My father says I’m probably going to like you, because you’re not politically correct.’ I told him, ‘You go home and tell him that’s the best description anyone has ever had of me.’

“I was brought up to say what’s on your mind, as long as you don’t insult anyone.”

He’s only had to dismiss a player or two from his teams over 11 years, and it hurts him to do it every time. Gorham has thrived in his first and only high school head coaching role because, he says, he receives one thing from his players that no coach could function without: Their respect.

“I still think (the old school ways) work, if it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “If you’re not doing the right thing, you’re going to lose the respect of the kids in the long run. And if you lose their respect, you’re in trouble.”

Gorham has that, and more. That first Cougars team recovered from the 0-2 start to finish 12-6. He captured his first title in 2006, a team led by probably the best player he feels he’s ever coached in Rob Leary. Last year, though, the Cougars won it all behind the graduated Cullan Baker, who turned in perhaps one of the best performances Gorham has seen both on the mound and at the plate in the title win over Somersworth. His only losing season came in 2004, a 6-11 campaign when he started four sophomores and a freshman.

He honed his coaching technique in the Swampscott (Mass.) High School program under a local legend named Frank DeFelice.

“I learned from the master,” he said. “I run and do everything the way a Swampscott team thinks.”

He was working in the airline industry and coaching youth baseball in Hawaii, of all places. When he returned to the mainland, a friend and his wife convinced him Litchfield would be a nice place to live. So he set up shop here and the same friend volunteered him for Babe Ruth coaching when the school, after a year of JV baseball, had a sudden opening for the varsity job when the previous coach left the area.

“Kids in their own minds had essentially thought they knew everything about the game as high school players without playing a single varsity game,” Gorham said. “I tried to get their attention.”

It didn’t have an immediate effect, until that swing for the fences, served up by his longtime assistant coach John Hartling. The next game, the Cougars got their first varsity win ever, an 11-1 pasting of Hollis Brookline.

Gorham has discovered that as times change, so do the players, who he says still “keep me young”.

“I can’t even tell you how much kids have changed,” he said. They’re not fazed by much today in the game. Sometimes you have to (teach and motivate them) in different ways.

“But I’ve mellowed over the years as far as ranting and raving. The last couple of years, our teams have been so young, you don’t want to scare them or lose them. That was my biggest fear last year.”

Gorham’s philosophy in building and maintaining a program is simple – if he and Hartling can get three starters every year out of a class, “then in Division III we think we have a chance.”

A chance at winning, yes. But Gorham is looking for more. After winning it all in 2006, a parent came up to him and said “Coach, you finally got what you wanted.”

She was talking about the championship. Gorham said ultimately, that’s not what he’s after.

“I want a senior class come back and show me their college diplomas, each kid,” he said. “I still haven’t had that happen. Baseball’s not going to carry them forever – so what’s the backup plan?”

And that’s why Jim Gorham still swings for the fences as the Cougars head coach.