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Alive and Coaching: New Hartford Mentor Defying Medical Demons

  • Head coach Bob Beisler watches junior Skye Currier, left, and senior Morgan Jones during a hitting drill at softball practice at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on April 3, 2018. While going through chemotherapy treatment over the past couple years, Beisler said the support he received from the players and their parents was overwhelming. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Assistant coach Shannon Boisvert, left, and head coach Bob Beisler, talk as players run laps around the gym during softball practice at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on April 3, 2018. In April 2016, Beisler had pancreatic cancer and was told he had one year to live. This will be his first season coaching while not going through chemotherapy treatment. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford High head coach Bob Beisler demonstrates a drill during softball practice at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on April 3, 2018. Before starting this year as varsity head coach for the Hurricanes, Beisler had spent 11 years coaching junior varsity. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 03, 2018

White River Junction — Bob Beisler is just happy to be alive.

The longtime junior varsity softball coach at Hartford High was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early spring of 2015. A year later, after six months of radiation and chemotherapy, Beisler — who was born in Hartford, went to school in Connecticut and returned to the Upper Valley in 1980 — was told that the cancer had spread. He was given less than 12 months to live.

Beisler didn’t expect to be here to start the 2018 spring season, nor did he expect he would be at the helm of the Hurricanes’ softball program as its new varsity head coach. But the trying circumstances have made the upcoming campaign a special one for Beisler, working for a program that some who know him refer to as Beisler’s “softball family.”

“This season is extra, extra special for me,” Beisler said during a Tuesday practice at Hartford’s gymnasium, two weeks into his first spring training at the helm. “Going from supposed to be dead last season to being here, I’m really wide-eyed and bushy-tailed to be here.”

Beisler has heard good news from the doctors over the last seven months. At present, his pancreas has shown no signs of the disease; he’s on a three-month rotation between checkups, just to make sure.

It was during that time that he applied to become Hartford’s new softball coach, taking over for Canes assistant athletic director Gary Gervais, who stepped down after last season. Beisler has served as the program’s junior varsity coach for 11 years — stepping up in 2007 after Gervais was promoted from jayvee to varsity.

Taking over the big club, he said, felt like a natural next step to stay involved with coaching. He was hired in December.

Gervais led the Canes to an 80-93-1 regular season record over his 10-year tenure, including five winning seasons. But Hartford has had its share of postseason struggles: the program has never been to a state title game, has not made a semifinal appearance since 1998 and has not won a playoff game since 2012, according to Vermont Principals Association records. Every season but three since 1999 has ended in first-round exits. It holds a 15-41 all-time playoff record since 1974.

Beisler is hoping he can change that, though turning the program’s fortunes around is, admittedly, a long-term goal. His biggest challenge this season is a change of mentality, switching his coaching style from a development mindset of junior varsity to a winning mindset with varsity.

“We’ve been really lucky. We have lots of good kids,” Beisler said. “(Hartford’s) football program (is especially strong). Softball? Not so much. It’s been a while. But let’s see what we can do about that.”

Hartford was 5-9 last season, falling to Otter Valley, 5-4, in the first round of the tournament. It returns a group of eight seniors and three starting pitchers that Beisler hopes he can turn into something of a rotation.

Sam Walz, a senior pitcher and outfielder who played on the JV squad for two years under Beisler, has noticed a more demanding head coach than the one she remembers. So far, she is enjoying the accountability of playing at a higher level.

“I think our team likes to be pushed,” Walz said. “I know, myself, I like having more of a higher standard. That way I can meet that standard. … I wouldn’t say he’s a different coach. I just think he knows that this is varsity and there is a higher standard. I would say he’s a little bit more tough on us. On varsity, standards are higher.”

For Walz, who will be joined by senior Kylee Beaucage and junior Bailey Bean in the circle this spring, having a pitching rotation has taken a little bit of pressure off of the trio.

“It actually makes me very comfortable having those girls there, as well,” Walz said. “I don’t want to be the only pitcher on my team. If I’m having a rough day … it makes me feel a lot better that I have other girls that can help me out.”

Sophomore Kendyl Boisvert, the lone underclassman assigned to the varsity, is planning on a transition to catcher this spring after playing outfield last year, and said she’s excited to see what this year’s group can do.

“It’s a little different — new coach — it’s always different,” said Boisvert, who’s mother, Shannon, is a former girls soccer coach at Lebanon High and is an assistant with the Canes this season. “We lost a couple of seniors last year, but it’s mostly the same team with a couple of new girls. It’s good.”

Beisler is keeping his expectations in check, hoping for a .500 regular season heading into the tournament. If not this year, he’s hoping the next few years can help put Hartford back on the right track.

“I will do it as long as I possibly can,” Beisler said about coaching. “I love working with these kids. I love seeing them off of the field, out of season, seeing how they’re doing.

“When I got really sick, the support I got from those kids and their parents was second only to my family. They really, really rallied behind me. The least I can do is give back to them.”

Hartford is scheduled to open its season on Monday afternoon at Windsor.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.