Behn here before

Sarah Behn directs her Franklin High troops during a Hockomock League encounter against host Foxboro High last winter. Behn, whose record career point total of 2,562 points still stands as the school record at Foxboro High, has accepted a job to coach the Warriors, filling the vacancy left by Dan Damish. (Staff photo by Mike George)

FOXBORO — Sarah Behn knows that her biggest challenge as the new girls' basketball coach at Foxboro High School may not be found from among the rest of the Hockomock League.

It will be what's represented by one simple banner that hangs above the exit to the Foxboro High gymnasium, just under the scoreboard — the banner upon which her retired jersey number, 33, is immortalized.

Sarah Behn, the coach, may never be able to equal the impact that Sarah Behn, the player, had upon basketball at her alma mater in the late 1980s. But she's not afraid to try.

“ I'm up to the challenge,” Behn said Tuesday after accepting the offer to succeed Dan Damish as the Warriors' coach.

“ I think that in a lot of ways, it really doesn't matter,” she said. “ I played so long ago … and because of what Dan Damish did there for so long, the team is used to winning and it expects to win. There's an awesome tradition in place, and I'm just glad to be a part of it.”

It's been a summer of change within the Foxboro High athletic department, starting in June with Damish's resignation after 11 successful seasons to accept the girls' basketball coaching job at King Philip Regional High School.

Closely following the naming of former Norton High athletic director and football coach Keith Gibson to succeed Bill Fallon (now Pembroke High's athletic boss) as athletic director, Foxboro High interim principal David Sweeney said he believes the school has added another gem to the athletic department in Behn.

“ I'm thrilled,” Sweeney said Tuesday. “ I was here in the '80s when she was a student, and I've known her for a long time. She is a top-quality person, and very loyal to her school.”

Sweeney said that from among a field of “ outstanding candidates,” Behn's name stood out like a beacon.

“ She's still so well known from her camps, and because she's had constant contact (with the Hockomock League) over the years, the young kids still look up to her,” he said. “ And, she's the kind of person who can still get out there and really show them how it's done.”

Behn inherits a winning program that, despite that success, had its share of off-court problems in recent years. Damish was briefly relieved of his duties as head coach in June 2002 following complaints by parents over his coaching style. He was reinstated before the start of the 2002-03 school year.

Behn, the head coach at Franklin High School for the past two seasons, believes she can bridge whatever gaps have grown between parents and the program.

“ This is going to be my 11th year in coaching,” Behn said, “ and every year, I learn more and more that it's important to maintain a good level of communication with the girls and their parents. I feel that I'm going to be able to offer them leadership and honesty in how I run this program.

“ Hopefully, we'll get to a position where all of us will be on the same page,” she said.

Behn, who fittingly turned 33 years of age on July 17 to match her retired jersey number, brings a host of experience to her third coaching job within the Hockomock League.

The former state record-holder for girls' basketball scoring (2,562 career points from 1985 through 1989) was a surprising hire by former North Attleboro High School athletic director Ray Beaupre in 1994. Following her record-setting career at Boston College (2,523 points, until 2003 the BC record for both women and men) and a year of professional basketball with the B.B.C. Etzella team in Ettlebruck, Luxembourg, Behn became a rookie head coach with no previous coaching experience when she took over a team that had lost 59 of 60 games over the previous three seasons.

Yet in her first year, she coached the Rocketeers to a 13-8 record and a return to the MIAA Tournament for the first time since Julie Schmidt and Deidre Robichaud led North to the state Division 2 title in 1991.

Over her three-season tenure at North Attleboro, Behn coached three future NCAA Division I players in Jamie Cournoyer (Boston College), Colleen McGahan (St. Joseph's) and Kerrin Fesik (Central Connecticut). Her 1995-96 team finished 19-5 and advanced to the MIAA Division 2-South championship game, while her 1996-97 team posted a 20-3 record, but was eliminated in the sectional semifinal round.

Her North Attleboro teams were 52-16 overall (.765), and 39-9 (.813) in Hockomock League play, winning two titles.

Behn used her success at North as a springboard into the collegiate coaching ranks. She spent three seasons coaching at Framingham State, resurrecting an NCAA Division III program that had failed to post a winning season in nine years prior to her arrival.

In her third season there, her team finished 16-9 and reached the semifinal round of the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference postseason tournament. She was named the 1999 MASCAC coach of the year.

Then in 2000, she accepted the head coaching position at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H., a member of the Division II Northeast-10 Conference. After an initial 8-18 season, a difficult pregnancy forced her to miss all but two games of the 2001-02 season. Her new family responsibilities, coupled with a 90-minute commute from her home in Franklin, prompted her to resign following her second season.

But Behn couldn't keep basketball out of her life for long. After twin boys Joey and Jack were born, she accepted the head coaching position at Franklin High for the 2002-03 campaign, succeeding long-time coach Don Cotter. She spent the last two seasons guiding the Panthers to successive MIAA Tournament berths, including a surprising run to the Division 1-South semifinals in her first season, losing to eventual state champion Brockton.

At Franklin, she posted a 25-22 record.

Having moved back to Foxboro with her husband, Timothy McGahan, and their sons, now 2{, Behn said she couldn't resist the lure of coaching at her alma mater.

“ I feel sad to leave (Franklin) because I enjoyed the kids on the team and the parents, and I had a great athletic director in Brad Sidwell,” she said. “ I really would have stayed there, but the only other town where I would have wanted to coach other than Franklin was Foxboro, and timing is everything.

“ We moved back to Foxboro last August, long before I could have anticipated Dan leaving, because we wanted to bring our kids up in the Foxboro school system,” she said.

One challenge Behn will face at Foxboro is dealing with the growing disparity in Hockomock League enrollment. Where she is leaving the league's largest school, expected to top 2,000 students by 2010, she is taking over a program at a school expected to be the league's smallest in enrollment for much of the next decade, barely topping 800 students in grades 9-12.

But Behn believes the school's tradition, and a vital and active youth basketball program in the community, will help her overcome the advantage larger schools may have.

“ Throughout my coaching career, I've had to take over teams that had struggled to win,” he said. “ That's why I'm really grateful to Coach Damish for having kept Foxboro's commitment to winning strong. Plus, I'm fortunate in that I'll be able to be active in the youth programs in town.”

She remains the driving force behind the Sarah Behn Basketball Camps, now in their 11th year. Her camps have expanded to include overnight-camp weeks at Franklin Pierce and Wheaton College, day camps at 11 locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the weekly Sarah's Pre-Season shooting camps at Franklin High in the fall.

MARK FARINELLA may be reached at 508-236-0315 or via e-mail at mfarinel@thesunchronicle.com

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