The Tiger and Wildfire families are in mourning following the news of the tragic death of long-time New England coach and middle school teacher Shawn Flaherty. Flaherty, 64, was killed Wednesday in a multi-vehicle crash in Dickinson.
Aside from the countless practices, wins and losses, his legacy went far beyond the scoreboard and into the lives of many players, coaches, staff and community members in New England. A football, basketball and track coach, his impact stretched beyond sports.
“He was great to work with. He comes across as a grizzly bear, he can come across as gruff the first time you meet him, but deep down, he is a teddy bear. He has a big heart,” Nate Zachmann, head football coach of the Mott-Regent-New England co-op, said. “I think when you talk about changing lives, whatever came out of coach Flaherty’s mouth was exactly what he meant. He was very genuine. He knew what needed to be said. He just loved to coach, and I think that is how he changed lives.”
Zachmann continued, “One thing he told me all the time last in the track co-op with Mott-Regent-New England was ‘this is the most positive thing I have been a part of in a long time coach Zachmann.’ There was a joy and gracious attitude in him.”
State Rep. Mike Schatz, District 36, and Flaherty had a long history together dating to the 1981 season. The duo alternated coaching positions over the years with Schatz being Flaherty’s assistant coach, and Flaherty being Schatz’s.
“Shawn was my best friend and just a fantastic person, so we’re definitely mourning his passing. He came here in 1981, the same year I came back to coach in New England and we coached together through 1989,” Schatz said. “It’s a tough day for the hundreds or thousands that he taught, the countless he coached and the countless he touched with his kindness. He was as much a part of my family as any one is. It’s a tremendous loss for us and for the community. There were a lot of people who loved him and a lot of people’s lives he impacted.”
The impact Flaherty made in the lives of the community are best expressed by those whose lives he touched most.
“Today we gained a beautiful angel. Shawn Flaherty will truly be missed. His smile, laugh, inspiration, drive, determination and the will to help every single person around him. He made such an amazing impact on my life, at such an early age,” Aubrae Pearson, former athlete and student of Flaherty, said. “He is one of the few people that helped guide me to be the basketball player that I ended up being. He showed me so many different aspects of life and helped me grow into the woman I am today.”
Pearson continued, “Although he left us too soon, I am not mad because I gained an amazing angel that I know will forever be watching out for me. I love him to the moon and back.”
Flaherty was killed while returning home to New England on Wednesday afternoon. Dickinson Police Officers responded to a 911 report of a multiple vehicle accident with serious injuries on South State Avenue near the intersection of Diamond Drive. Flaherty died at the scene.
“This is a huge loss for the student body of New England and the co-op of Mott-Regent-New England. I think he left a legacy. When things like this happen it is a shock to everybody,” Zachmann said. “It is important to ask not why it happened, but to be thankful for the people you do have in your lives. I learned that from Coach Flaherty. I can’t imagine the heartache of the community of New England.”
New England’s head girls basketball coach, Jason Jung, praised Flaherty’s willingness to be a stern word in correcting deficiencies in players and students, while also being a caring shoulder to share his compassion with.
“He would do anything for anyone. A great example of that is when I graduated high school, I was looking for a part-time job. He went out and found me a job,” Jung said. “He heard I was looking, and he found a job for me. That is a little example of the things he would do for people. He was a huge fundraiser in the community for our booster club. He would go above and beyond for anybody in trying to help them in any way shape or form.”
A memorial is being scheduled to be hosted at the New England School for members of the community to remember and celebrate the life of “Coach.” Details were not yet available Thursday.