Published March 29. 2013 4:00AM
Old Lyme - The computer screen in his office was giving Old Lyme High School athletic director Rob Roach problems earlier this week, with the letters blown up to about an inch tall.
For a minute, Roach considered maybe the computer was making an age joke.
"Look at him," Roach said, poking fun at himself. "He's 89 years old and he's still the AD at Old Lyme."
Roach isn't 89. He's 63. He is the lifeblood of the Old Lyme sports program, a former star athlete, coach and now AD, the guy who goes to just about every game, who is responsible for solving almost every problem.
"He bleeds blue," veteran Old Lyme coach Bill Rayder said, stopping by Roach's office recently. "He's like Tommy Lasorda (Hall of Fame L.A. Dodgers manager)."
Said Old Lyme girls' basketball coach Don Bugbee, who popped his head into Roach's office a few minutes later: "He does a lot of stuff nobody knows about."
Roach, after 41 years in education, 38 at Old Lyme, is retiring in June following one more spring season.
Roach graduated from the school in 1968, having scored the game-winning goal for the boys' soccer team when it won Old Lyme's first state championship of any kind in the fall of 1966.
He started the successful girls' soccer program at Old Lyme in 1975 and led it through the 1990 season, a tenure for which he was later inducted into the Connecticut Girls' Soccer Coaches' Association Hall of Fame.
And, as athletic director, he will leave with the tiny school on the shoreline sponsoring 23 sports, including a cooperative football program with Valley Regional of Deep River. Roach said the participation level among students is more than 50 percent for the spring season; the state average is about 18 percent, he said.
He said his career has sped past, since he first accepted a job teaching social studies at Old Lyme for the 1975-76 school year at the urging of one of his former teachers, Lou Hage.
"I remember my first class," Roach said, listing names, his malfunctioning computer momentarily forgotten. "The kids are still familiar to me now. Great kids. Fond memories. I'm 63 years old and my career has all been positive. It's enjoyable. It does fly by.
"... I'll miss it, but it's good to still go out while you still have the efforts. I don't want to be on the other side of it."
Old Lyme lifer
Roach, who resides in Lyme with his wife Maryann, first moved to the town as a child. His parents, John and Frances, who raised a family of 10, resided in Meriden but fell in love with the shoreline during their frequent summer visits to Point O' Woods Beach and eventually moved there.
After graduating from Old Lyme, where he played striker for legendary boys' soccer coach Jim Gardner Sr., Roach was a Division II All-American at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. He is also a member of the Saint Anselm athletic hall of fame.
As Old Lyme girls' soccer coach, Roach's teams were state runners-up in 1985 and won the Shoreline Conference three times, having played against Hand of Madison in the first-ever Shoreline game.
"I remember the final against Tolland. We lost 1-0. It was snowing, up in Cromwell, and by the end you couldn't see the lines. Kids were slip-sliding," Roach said. "... My last game. It was 22 degrees out and Jen (Rubitski) scored a goal for the other team. It was like, 'That's nice Jen, but could you score one for us?'"
Those are all the memories that serve as the foundation for Roach's career as athletic director/Old Lyme ambassador.
Because he had special memories as an athlete, he believes the students at Old Lyme deserve the same. If a few kids want to wrestle, he finds a school that will take them as part of the program. When a handful of students who had played pee wee football growing up wanted to know why there was no football, Old Lyme entered into the co-op agreement with Valley Regional.
"Being here and being AD, you're the head of the coaches and their success grows out of your success as AD," Roach said. "I'm an enabler. I tell them, 'Just coach.' I try to pick up as much of the slack as I can."
Roach visits his coaches at practice every day and attends games at home and sometimes on the road. If he sees a parent upset by a kid's playing time at an away game, Roach has been known to pick up the phone and call the parent as a preemptive strike.
He's well-respected enough at his job that when he retired from teaching three years ago, former superintendent Betty Osga asked Roach to stay on for three more years as AD to see the school through an extensive construction project which is scheduled to be completed this spring.
No one has applied for his position as of yet, but Roach doesn't believe in staying past his time.
"My retiring might open up an opportunity for a young person. They should have a start just like I had a start," said Roach, who added that he and Maryann have always wanted to move to New Hampshire, where they met, and open an inn. "I'll be a fan. I'll be around.
"... They're good kids. They have more social media exposure than we did. But they're at the same exact place developmentally. They're good kids; that's why I've been around so long."
Roach did apply for an athletic director position at another local school at one point. He thought he was getting too comfortable in one spot his whole career. He didn't get the job, perhaps remaining where he was meant to be, in the town in which he grew up.
"Thank God," Roach said with a smile. "I would've missed it here."