BURLINGTON — Back in early September, the first game of the season, the Wilmington High School girls' soccer team defeated Belmont, 2-0, which gave the program it's 300th win.
Fast forward six weeks later and the 'Cats defeated both Woburn (3-1) and Burlington (3-0) this past Wednesday and Monday, respectively, which gave head coach Sue Hendee her 299th and 300th career victories. Her time at WHS dates back to her inaugural year as head coach in 1988, after serving one year as a volunteer assistant under then coach Steve Mader.
The Eastern Massachusetts Soccer Coaches Association couldn’t confirm how many other female coaches from the state have reached 300 wins, but either way if she’s the first or the 100th to do so, it’s a truly remarkable achievement.
"For Sue to get her 300th win is such a great accomplishment," said WHS Athletic Director Ed Harrison. "Not only is she a great coach, but she is a better teacher of the game. She challenges her athletes to be the best they can be both on and off the field. Her teams are made up of hard workers, who are competitive and who always show good sportsmanship. Congratulations to Sue."
While the 300 wins and being on the bench for every single game in program history is extremely impressive, what stands above everything for Hendee is everything she does for her players, the program, this community and so many people in need.
“I believe a large part of Miss Hendee's success was fostered by the team building she encourages every season,” said former player Jacqueline Kennedy. “Over my four years playing for Miss Hendee, I attended many team dinners, fundraisers, and team building activities such as Camp 40 Acres and attending Boston College women’s soccer games. Miss Hendee shows her support for her players by attending off-season games — she came to numerous games for softball, basketball, lacrosse, etc.
“She also supports the Wilmington community through the annual October ‘Kick Cancer’ game against Stoneham to fundraise for breast cancer research and the Pan-Mass Challenge Kid’s Rides. Congratulations to Miss Hendee and here’s to 300-plus wins."
Hendee spends countless hours organizing many charitable events, including the Pan Mass Children's Bike Ride. She has competed in the Pan Mass Challenge herself every year since 1990, raising all kinds of money for cancer research.
"I enjoy doing those things, never mind it's the right thing to do," said Hendee. "I just enjoy it and I think it's important that you look out for others and help those who may need help."
On top of all of that, Hendee is always in the stands watching her former players excel at the collegiate level, traveling to every college across New England. Every year she is also in the stands watching the basketball, softball teams and other WHS Athletic teams play, rooting on the kids wearing blue and white and rooting on those girls who spilled their hearts out for her during the soccer seasons.
Hendee is the epitome of a role model, not to mention being one heck of a coach — 300 wins, nine league titles, one state finalist trophy, one Division 2 North Sectional Championship, and a large number of Coach of the Year awards between her days coaching the Wildcats in three different leagues — the Merrimack Valley Conference, the Cape Ann League and now the Middlesex League.
"Playing for Sue was great," said Hall of Fame Athlete Adrienne Fay. "She was tough, but always supportive. She's had an amazing career."
If you ask the coach about her career, wins, accolades and this newest milestone, she will shy away, and say that she didn't accomplish anything.
"It is about longevity, but it's more about the kids who play than about me. I coach the way I coach and it's the kids who are the ones who step up and win the games," Hendee said.
Hendee was then asked if her coaching style has changed from her first game behind the bench in 1988 to Monday morning's win over Burlington.
"Yes and no. I think I have always been a team-oriented person and less interested in statistics and more concerned about team play," she said. "I don't think that has ever changed. That's just my philosophy and it's a team game. Back in the day we played with a (defensive) sweeper and a stopper, and we've gone back and forth between having two or three attackers.
“I think (throughout my coaching career) we play the right formation that suits who we have as players and that's what you really have to go with. You can't really force a formation onto a team.
"There's always a rationale (to the various formations we play), it doesn't necessarily work all of the time," she added with a laugh.
Certainly since 1988 many things have changed. Soccer is now played on turf fields, teams usually play a 'Flatback-4' defense or some alternative of that and overall, the kids today, according to Hendee, have a better concept of the actual game.
"I think the kids today are more technical and I think they are more tactical," she said. "They understand the game a lot better than back in the day when we were teaching very basic concepts, so these kids come in with a much stronger background."
Not counting this season since there's at least five more games to play, Hendee has some incredible accomplishments during her previous 31 years as head coach. The program has had 19, 18, 16 (twice), 15, 12 (twice), 11 and 10 (five times) win seasons, had back-to-back unbeaten seasons in 2014 and '15 and this decade alone the program has gone 123-43-27 (counting this season 's 8-5-0 record) with eight straight state tournament appearances and one win away from making a ninth straight trip.
But if you know Hendee, her style, her fun personality and her commitment to the program and players, she never wavers from fully committing to all of that whether her team finishes 3-10-5 or 18-1-1.
"I'd like to continue coaching for a while," she said. "I still enjoy coaching. I don't think the kids have changed that much since even when I was in high school. They'll do the same kind of dumb things that we did and that's all about being a fun teenager.
“The one thing that is different is the amount of opportunity. We didn't even have a varsity team until my junior year of high school and there was no such thing as club soccer or youth soccer. Maybe recreation would throw out a soccer ball and we would play co-ed for an hour and we would all think that was the coolest thing ever.
"I still try to keep current and go to all of the coaching clinics and all kinds of things like that which I enjoy. I enjoy the game, I enjoy watching the US National Team and I just think it's a beautiful game."