ELLSWORTH — Years after the two first met, Jimmy Shedeck remembered Darren Richardson.
In the early 1990s, Richardson, an athlete at Mount View High School in Thorndike, and Shedeck, an assistant coach at Ellsworth, first crossed paths during an outdoor track meet. The two had a brief conversation, and Shedeck encouraged Richardson and gave the young athlete words of advice.
Years later Richardson would become Ellsworth’s head track coach, a position he still holds today. Even though years had gone by since that brief encounter when Richardson began his first day on the job, it was the first thing Shedeck mentioned to Richardson when the two were reintroduced.
“That’s just who he was,” Richardson said. “No matter who you were or how he met you, he cared about you and wanted you to succeed.”
Those who knew him said no less of Shedeck, a staple at track and cross-country meets for decades at Ellsworth High School. An icon and friend to all who walked through the school’s doors, Shedeck, who passed away over the weekend at the age of 74, will long be remembered by those whose lives he touched in the Ellsworth community.
Shedeck, who moved to Ellsworth after serving in the Vietnam War, spent 20 years working as a custodian in the Ellsworth School Department. During his tenure coaching cross-country, track and field and softball, the Eagles enjoyed consistent success across the board.
When the Ellsworth girls won the state cross-country title in 2018, no one was prouder of the Eagles than Shedeck. The same could be said in 1996 and 1998, when boys’ teams that included then-standout runner and current head coach Louie Luchini won Class B titles.
“On both occasions, I can’t think of anyone who was happier than Jimmy,” said Luchini, who grew up right down the street from Shedeck. “He had such a big heart, and he was absolutely dedicated to his athletes, the community and the school.”
Shedeck’s legacy, though, went beyond event wins and trophies. The late coach could always be relied upon as a confidant and a trusted friend for students, fellow coaches and anyone else whose path he might happen to cross.
“He didn’t care how good you were; if you needed a coach, he was there for you,” Luchini said. “He believed in each and every kid that he coached regardless of ability, and he helped them be the best they could be.”
With the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season, last winter’s Eastern Maine Indoor Track League season ended up being Shedeck’s last as an Ellsworth coach. He was awarded a plaque in recognition of his years in the district prior to the fall season.
On cold winter evenings, Shedeck stayed in the parking lot after practices to make sure every athlete and coach had access to the school building or a warm car. During the fall and spring seasons, he spent his time maintaining the school’s athletic fields and assisting coaches and administrators however he could.
“Even when not coaching, he could be found running the scoreboard at the home soccer games or the buzzer and time clock at the basketball games or working the fields,” said Michelle McNabb, one of Shedeck’s five children. “Anyone who went to Ellsworth High School knew who Jimmy Shedeck was.”
A long tenure at Ellsworth High School gave Shedeck an opportunity to coach generations of Ellsworth athletes. Some of those who were once his students, such as Luchini and Josh Frost, later became his colleagues as coaches or administrators.
“He was such a gentle giant,” said Frost, who now works as Ellsworth’s athletic director. “After I got cut from the baseball team my freshman year, I switched to track and took up the pole vault. He was always encouraging me and helping me learn.”
One of Shedeck’s defining qualities, Richardson said, was his ability to get athletes to concentrate on what mattered. He was exceptional at presenting failure as a building block rather than an indictment of character or ability.
“A lot of times, when a kid doesn’t have a great meet or doesn’t do as well as they want, they take it personally,” Richardson said. “One of [Jimmy’s] messages was, ‘Hey, don’t take it so personally.’ He wanted to keep them focused, and he did that.”
Track, of course, is facing an uncertain immediate future as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to affect local sports. Whenever meets resume, though, there are sure to be plenty of athletes competing in memory of the man they called “Coach Jim.”
“He had such a big heart,” Luchini said. “It’s a really big loss for our team and our community. We’re fortunate that he gave us all so many memories.”