A Labore of love: Mascoma coach going a long way to improve Royals

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-17-2023 8:29 AM

WEST CANAAN — Christine Labore is up at 5 a.m. most weekdays and is out the door by 6. On some days with away games, she doesn’t get home until close to midnight.

A sixth grade teacher at Indian River Middle School who is in her first season as the full-time Mascoma High softball head coach, Labore moved from the Canaan area to Rutland, Vt., just before this season began due to a tough Upper Valley housing market. That means she commutes an hour and 20 minutes each morning and evening, not to mention traversing the state of New Hampshire with the Royals for road games.

But the long days are worth it for Labore, who attended Mascoma before moving to Salem, N.H., as a sophomore and who believes the Royals can be in state title contention within the next few years despite an 0-10 record this spring.

“I love the school, I love the district, I like giving back,” Labore said. “My parents were very involved in this district when I was here, so it’s great to be back involved.”

Labore, who began coaching at Mascoma as an assistant in 2021, became the head coach midway through last season under difficult circumstances. Previous coach Chris Thurston was relieved of his duties on April 21, 2022. The school district did not release a statement, but Thurston told the Valley News he was fired for swearing at a student-athlete during a postgame team meal, an allegation he denied.

It was up to Labore, who was told at a practice that she would be assuming head coaching responsibilities, to make sure the team stayed focused on softball through the transition period and the distractions that can bring. Mascoma volleyball head coach Eric Ramage stepped in to help out Labore with softball for the rest of the year.

“We just focused on the game. We focused on why we’re here, and we focused on playing a sport that we all love,” Labore said. “Our main goal was just softball and having fun while we were doing it. It wasn’t about anything that had happened before.”

Stephen Stebbins took over as Mascoma’s athletic director last summer, and he opened the softball job to other candidates and interviewed one of them. But he and the interview committee overwhelmingly supported Labore, who had extensive coaching experience with her daughter’s teams in Virginia before she moved back to northern New England.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hartford parts with state champion girls hockey coach
Plan for 240 apartments in White River Junction completes planning and zoning review
Search for missing Dartmouth graduate student ends tragically
Missing Dartmouth student’s body found in Connecticut River
Strafford man out of prison after pleading guilty to burning down cabin
Royalton closes bridge spanning Broad Brook

The Royals went 8-7 and reached the NHIAA Division III quarterfinals under Thurston in 2021 but tumbled to a 1-15 mark last year and, through 10 games, this year are allowing more than 23 runs per contest. It’s a very young group — Mascoma’s lone senior, Piper Morgan, is a transfer from Lebanon, as is Natalee Pettersen, one of the Royals’ three juniors. All four freshmen on the roster were in the starting lineup Monday against Fall Mountain.

Stebbins said the youth programs in the Mascoma district were hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and he talks about building those programs to all of his coaches in end-of-season interviews.

“A big piece of (rebuilding the program) is keeping this young group all here. I’m hoping they don’t get frustrated and quit the sport,” Stebbins said. “The skills development and all that, we had a ways to go. With a group like this, you’re going to see a pop fly missed. (Labore) just stays with it and gives them real good positive reinforcement when they make good plays, and when it’s a not-so-good play, it’s still very positive.”

Labore runs practice like she runs her classroom: with a highly structured schedule. But thanks to weather postponements and makeup games, Mascoma hasn’t had much of a chance to practice lately. Three games were postponed in the first week of May, and as a result the Royals played five games in as many days last week — the first three of which were all on the road — and have four scheduled for this week.

For some players, the schedule has been even more loaded because they swing between the varsity and junior varsity teams and thus played a JV doubleheader last Saturday at Kearsarge on top of the five varsity games. Much of Mascoma’s learning, then, has had to take place during games. Labore identifies mistakes she sees in games and does her best to help players correct them in real time.

“We have no more practices, so we have to fix these things in games,” said junior Alyssa Webster, the team captain and one of just three varsity returnees. “She just tries to have us put (mistakes) in the back of our mind and think about what’s coming next and not what’s already happened.”

The Royals have also emphasized sportsmanship under Labore, so much so that, after each game, they identify a player on the other team who worked hard or made a great play to present with a game ball. Labore said none of the teams Mascoma has played have done this, but her teams in Virginia did, and Ramage suggested the idea when he was assisting her last year.

“My expectation is that every single game, we focus on one particular thing that we want to do better,” Labore said. “Everybody makes mistakes; we know they’re going to happen. It’s a matter of what comes next. They’ve got to be able to pull themselves up as soon as they get down. I don’t expect them to be major league players or college players right away. I just keep reminding them to just focus on what they’re doing in the moment and have some fun.”

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

]]>