Four years ago, the Bates nordic ski team filed into room 106 of the Bethel Inn Resort in Bethel, Maine. Most are clad in the grey and maroon Bates sweat-suitos, wanting to be as comfy as possible for the team meeting about to happen. A few sprawl on the double beds, some lounge in the floral patterned chairs.
The Bates nordic ski program’s head coach, Becky Woods, starts the meeting off with a few words about race goals and course logistics for that weekend’s college ski carnival. Next the team captains share a few thoughts, offering advice about where to make up time and where it is potentially lost.
Finally, there’s a pause in conversation, usually an indicator of the meeting’s conclusion, but no one gets up to leave. All heads turn to one corner of the room and anticipation fills the air. Before anyone can call out the question: “Coach?”, Robert “Bob” Flynn, Wood’s father and co-coach, nods his head.
Though what he is about to say is known by all in the room, the words still sting with the fierceness of Maine’s mid-winter air. He begins to speak and many cannot help but mouth the words along with him.
“Good, better, best. Never ever rest. ‘Til the good is better and the better is best,” Flynn said, nodding his head once more and the meeting adjourns.
A little over four years later, with the passing of Flynn on July 31 at the age of 83, these words survive with many of the athletes he coached.
A three-sport head coach — along with nordic skiing, he coached the football and baseball teams — at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, Flynn connected with his athletes because was also an athlete himself.
While growing up in Lewiston Maine, he competed in football, ice hockey, baseball, and skiing through his high school years. He played minor league baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1952 to 1957 before earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine.
As a member of the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame, the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Maine Ski Hall of Fame, Flynn is often credited with resurrecting the Bates Nordic Ski Program.
In 1968, he took over the program and began re-building the college’s varsity ski team. He pushed for NCAA Ski Championships to be hosted by Bates in Maine and after eight years of advocating, he succeeded.
“He was always persistent,” Dave Irons, a ski reporter and director of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame, said according to a press release. “There aren’t many college ski coaches who would even think about hosting the NCAAs.”
Flynn also served as the president for the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association and chair of the NCAA Skiing Rules Committee. In 2015, the Bates alpine and nordic ski rooms were dedicated to Coach Flynn. During the christening ceremony, Bates Director of Athletics Kevin McHugh referred to Flynn as “the force, the spirit, and the iconic Bobcat zen,” of Bobcat athletics, a press release stated.
The ‘iconic Bobcat zen’ Flynn demonstrated stemmed largely from the potential he saw in all the athletes he coached. Steve Fuller, a Bates nordic alum and current Trustee for the college, pointed out that what Flynn did most for those he worked with was show “unwavering confidence in us as athletes and as human beings.”
— Gabby Naranja