Hometown Hero: Joe Raycraft and his leadership skills will ride off into the sunset. 

  • Joe Raycraft at the Merrimack Valley High football field where he just completed his last season as the head coach. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/20/2022 8:00:41 PM

Joe Raycraft considered retiring from coaching a few years ago.

He had already done so much by then. He was named Merrimack High School’s athletic director more than 50 years ago, hired to supervise the entire program while bringing varsity football to the school for the first time.

He later served as the athletic director for the three high schools in Manchester. He’s lived in Penacook with his wife of 53 years and has cast a huge, impactful shadow over the sports landscape here in both youth and scholastic sports, teaching skills to help students succeed on the court, on the field and outside the lines.

But the recently retired head coach of the Merrimack Valley High School football team had some unfinished business this fall before shelving his whistle and clipboard for good: coach his grandson, Riley Flynn, during his fourth and final season playing varsity.

“I thought it would be nice to stay and watch him through his final year,” Raycraft said.

And while that became Joe’s focus, his daughter, Robin Raycraft, had an idea of her own: nominate her father as a winner in the Monitor’s Hometown Heroes series.

“All the lives he has touched, I felt he was worthy,” Robin Raycraft said. “I remember when the phone would ring, it was always a kid asking, ‘Is coach there?’ Sometimes it was a player or a former player who was now coaching.”

It’s doubtful that the name ‘Coach’ will disappear anytime soon as an identifying label for Raycraft. That’s what he did.

He also played, basketball and baseball at New Hampshire College. He coached three sports at Bishop Brady and moved into the administration sector as the athletic director at Merrimack College in the early 1970s.

There, he began the process of assembling a football team. Merrimack won the state championship 12 years later.

“It worked out well,” said Joe, a man of few words.

He won state titles in softball at Campbell High School in Litchfield. And, as a longtime resident of Penacook, Raycraft’s children and other family members attended classes in the Merrimack Valley School District, nudging him towards a short coaching career closer to home.

In recent years, he stepped in when the Merrimack Valley Middle School needed a coach, and spent the past five years as the head coach of the high school’s varsity football team.

And once his grandson had completed his four-year career last month playing tackle for the Pride, Raycraft finally felt comfortable with his decision to retire from coaching.

Robin Raycraft cited many of her father’s coaching accomplishments in her nominating letter to the Monitor. But the true meaning of her letter dealt with the benefits of true leadership in organized sports that have nothing to do with wins and losses.

“The number of lives he has touched just by being present, teaching thousands of kids how to love a sport, how to be a good sport and how to be the best version of themselves,” Robin wrote. “He feels that as an athlete, your behavior on the field or court was just as important as when you weren’t. He taught perseverance, resiliency, and played more roles than just as a coach.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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