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No Saying No This Time for Tigers’ Spanos

  • Tim Spanos, long time Lebanon American Legion Post 22 assistant coach has taken over the varsity baseball program in his hometown of Newport Friday, April 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Tim Spanos, long time Lebanon American Legion Post 22 assistant coach has taken over the varsity baseball program in his hometown of Newport Friday, April 11, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tim Spanos, long time Lebanon American Legion Post 22 assistant coach, brings his team together during practice in Newport Friday, April 11, 2014. The team was preparing to open its season against Stevens the following Monday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Tim Spanos, long time Lebanon American Legion Post 22 assistant coach, brings his team together during practice in Newport Friday, April 11, 2014. The team was preparing to open its season against Stevens the following Monday.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Newport varsity baseball coach Tim Spanos feeds a ball to catcher Damon Contois during a drill in Newport Firday, April 11, 2014. Spanos has taken over the Newport baseball program after years as an assistant coach with Lebanon American Legion Post 22.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Newport varsity baseball coach Tim Spanos feeds a ball to catcher Damon Contois during a drill in Newport Firday, April 11, 2014. Spanos has taken over the Newport baseball program after years as an assistant coach with Lebanon American Legion Post 22.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tim Spanos, long time Lebanon American Legion Post 22 assistant coach has taken over the varsity baseball program in his hometown of Newport Friday, April 11, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Tim Spanos, long time Lebanon American Legion Post 22 assistant coach, brings his team together during practice in Newport Friday, April 11, 2014. The team was preparing to open its season against Stevens the following Monday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Newport varsity baseball coach Tim Spanos feeds a ball to catcher Damon Contois during a drill in Newport Firday, April 11, 2014. Spanos has taken over the Newport baseball program after years as an assistant coach with Lebanon American Legion Post 22.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Newport — After seven years serving as a devoted assistant to Rob Woodward on the Lebanon Post 22 American Legion baseball team, Newport High social studies teacher Tim Spanos was finally ready to walk away from the game.

Then his athletic director came calling.

When Doug Beaupre needed urgent help taking over the Tigers’ girls basketball team last winter following the abrupt resignation of Dave Muzzey, Spanos was one of the first people he called.

Spanos said yes to helping Beaupre and co-coach Samantha Hemingway lead the Tiger girls, then realized the acceptance virtually obliged him to take on another coaching role this spring — as head coach of Newport’s baseball team. With much hesitation, Spanos is succeeding Bob Bates, who departed last year after five seasons.

“It’s a really busy year for me. I’m going through a teacher re-certification process, and I wanted to finally spend a little bit more time with my wife,” said Spanos, 54. “When Bob left last year, I was asked to take over and my answer was, ‘No.’ I had fully decided that was my answer.

“But once I said ‘yes’ to Doug to help with the girls, I realized I couldn’t say ‘no’ to baseball when they needed somebody. I’m friends with too many of these kids’ fathers and mothers. I would have gotten run out of town.”

Now that Spanos has decided to take the plunge on the diamond — his first varsity head coaching job in any sport — he couldn’t be happier. Spanos is excited to be taking over a Tigers team that went 8-9 last year, winning eight of its last 12 before a first-round NHIAA Division III playoff loss to Monadnock. The Tigers return six of nine starters, including a much-improved No. 1 pitcher in junior Andrew Houde.

“We have as much talent as anyone in Division III. I truly believe that,” Spanos said. “The questions is: Are we going to be able to play together and be mentally tough? Because this game can beat the behind out of you.”

Spanos has been even more impressed with the Tigers’ work ethic and desire to please.

“I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids as far as their attitudes. I mean, they’re fantastic,” the coach gushed. “These kids, all 16 of them, are so dedicated to the little things, like picking up equipment, it kind of blows my mind. I’ve never seen the type of discipline these guys have. I think it’s because a lot of them were coached by (Tigers boys basketball coach) Steve (Lavolpicelo) and (outgoing Newport football coach) Larry (Carle).”

Spanos’ own playing career was cut short by injuries, first in high school and later at the University of Vermont. A knee injury on opening day of his freshman season playing for the Tigers’ junior varsity team sidelined him for the whole year, and he hurt his ankle severely prior to the following season while boogieing at a Greek-themed dance in Newport.

Having transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy as a junior, he reinjured the same ankle while coming down for a rebound playing basketball for the Big Red.

“I never broke the ankle, just kept spraining it over and over again,” recalled Spanos, who graduated from PEA in 1977. “It was a constant struggle.”

Still determined to play after high school, Spanos earned a walk-on roster spot for Jack Leggett at UVM and was red-shirted his freshman year. He played four games as a Catamount sophomore, but suffered a finger laceration on his throwing hand prior to his junior season and left the team.

“I thought, ‘Do I really want to go through more rehab?’ and decided to walk away,” Spanos remembered. “At some point, it’s just not meant to be.”

While still an undergraduate, Spanos had coached a Newport-based Babe Ruth team to a league title, and he continued coaching after graduating from UVM.

He was an assistant under Carle with the Tigers through the mid-1980s — helping the program win its lone state baseball title in ’83 — while concurrently assisting Jim Costa with Claremont’s American Legion team. He subsequently coached youth baseball in Newport for years before taking a hiatus from the game.

Spanos returned to the dugout in 2007 to assist with Lebanon American Legion, helping Post 22 qualify for the District B postseason three times over the last seven years.

Spanos’ active and personable demeanor is going to be hard to replace, according to Woodward.

“He’s a great coach. He knows every aspect of the game inside and out — hitting, fielding, you name it,” said Woodward in a phone interview. “And he’s great with the kids. I can’t tell you many how many pitches he threw for batting practice or how many infield ground balls he hit. We’re going to miss him.”

The Tigers’ players are happy to have him aboard, even if it means a few more fitness drills during practice. Junior first baseman Brady Bates — nephew of former coach Bob Bates — said some of Spanos’ physical demands are one of the biggest adjustments for players.

“We’re doing more conditioning this year, that’s for sure,” Brady Bates said. “He demands that we be physically fit. We run up and down stairs, we do at least 100 push-ups per night. … He knows it’s going to make us better players.”

Houde, who’s made significant strides to his curveball and overall accuracy since last season, expects the Tigers to have a strong season.

“I definitely think we can be one of the best teams in Division III, if we play together,” Houde said. “We had a slow start last season, but I don’t see that happening this year.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.