Culture club: Former Lebanon girls hoop coach Kehoe honored with Wooden Award

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-07-2023 9:26 PM

LEBANON — Tim Kehoe was never one to relish the spotlight.

The longtime Lebanon High girls basketball coach, who stepped down after the 2019-20 season to focus more on his family, was honored at Friday night’s game with the John Wooden Legacy Award. After receiving his plaque, Kehoe wanted to head right back to his place in the stands, but several of his family members and former players were on hand and made their way down to the court for a group photo.

The award is presented annually to a boys and girls coach in each state who has “achieved excellence on the floor, in the classroom and in the community” and embodies the characteristics and legacy of the late legendary men’s coach at UCLA. Excellence in the classroom and in the community can be hard to quantify, but Kehoe’s teams were certainly excellent on the court.

He compiled a 545-108 record over 29 seasons, reaching the NHIAA semifinals 20 times with 11 title game appearances and five outright championships. The Raiders also advanced to the Division II final in 2020, his final season, before the game was canceled due to COVID-19.

“I came in with a solid program and just ran with it,” Kehoe said. “I had so many great girls come into our program, as far as sacrificing individual goals for the good of the team. Our culture in Lebanon was what made it great. We’ve always had great programs here because the kids and parents understood what sacrifice is all about.”

Kehoe grew up in Rhode Island and played basketball at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. He knew he wanted to stay involved with athletics after college, and his first job took him to New Hampshire as an athletic director in Pittsburg, the Granite State’s northernmost town.

After one year in Pittsburg, Kehoe relocated to the Upper Valley, spending one season each coaching the boys and girls teams at Newport High before arriving at Lebanon in 1990.

“I just love the culture, I love the kids, I love the competitiveness of it,” Kehoe said. “As a player I enjoyed it, and I just always wanted to be a coach.”

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By 1993, Kehoe’s third season, the Raiders were on top, winning the program’s second championship and Kehoe’s first. Lebanon also won it all in 2001, 2007, 2013 and 2017.

The 2013 title especially stands out — Kehoe’s daughter, Emily, was a senior on that team, averaging 16.2 points per game for an undefeated squad. All five starters went on to play in college, with Emily Kehoe (now Emily Sowa after marrying Lebanon boys assistant coach Jeff Sowa in 2021) playing four years at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine.

“When you have five kids like that who are completely dedicated to a sport and understand it really well, good things happen,” Sowa said. “Dad, of course, contributes to all of that. We all played with him since we were in fifth and sixth grade, and being able to play with each other all the way through, that’s what builds the program and that’s what builds a state championship team.”

After that 2013 championship, Kehoe stepped away for a year to help care for his older brother, Ed, who had also made his way to the Upper Valley as the girls basketball coach at Mascoma High. Ed Kehoe guided the Royals to three state titles, then coached at Sunapee and Hartford before having surgery to address a brain tumor in 2013. He passed away the following August, after which Tim returned to the Lebanon bench.

By 2020, though, Kehoe — who still teaches physical education at Lebanon — was ready for more family time. Sowa, by then an assistant on her father’s staff, took over as head coach for one year, going 8-4 in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, before she too stepped away upon getting married to start a family. A health teacher at the high school, Sowa welcomed her first child last March.

For Sowa’s replacement, the Raiders tapped Chris Boucher, a 1992 Lebanon graduate who was a student manager as a senior for Kehoe’s second season after not making the varsity boys team. Boucher later assisted Kieth Matte’s 1998 boys state championship squad, and after a stint in Vermont, he had spent the previous season coaching the Raiders’ junior varsity girls.

“It was great learning experience,” Boucher said of his year as Kehoe’s manager. “I’ve got different teams (now) than what he had, and he tells me to be myself and keep working the kids and working hard.”

Boucher nominated Kehoe for the Wooden Legacy Award and spent six months planning the ceremony, making sure as many alumni as possible could attend. Lebanon also honored its lone senior, Keira Houdegbe, who played for Kehoe as a freshman and is now the last current Raider to have suited up for him.

Kehoe said it can be hard to stay away from the team, especially considering he teaches P.E. to several of them and his office is directly behind the scorer’s table at Lang Metcalf Gym. But he is certainly appreciative of the greater free time to work on himself and his family — and doesn’t mind that some of his students may not even know he used to be a coach.

“When I coached, I was obsessive and crazy, and I put so much time and energy into it,” Kehoe said. “I do miss a hard practice; I do miss talking to kids about life in general. I miss more of that than the basketball.

“Any good coach would probably tell you it’s more about the relationships than the X’s and O’s. The games always made me nervous and got me all tense, but the practices and the relationships, they were pretty special.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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