Love of diamonds: Furrow makes Little League baseball woman's worldShe leads young male athletes to state hardball success
Thorndike — With her team recently taking the field for the state Little League 11- and 12-year-old baseball tournament in Bar Harbor, Waldo County manager Monica Furrow got an interesting bit of information from the team's assistant coach Otis Kneeland during the opening ceremony.
"[He] was standing next to me, looked down and he said, 'I bet you're the only person here with painted toenails,' " Furrow said. "And I looked around and said, 'Wow, I'm the only female on this field right now.' "
More than 80 people stood on that field and Furrow essentially stood out as one of a kind. Not as the only person with red toenails, but as the only woman manager in the state tournament.
Furrow, a Thorndike resident who, along with her husband, Wally, has coached youth sports for years, described it as one of her proudest moments.
Furrow led the Waldo County 11-12 baseball team to a 3-2 record and third in the state, having lost both games by a combined three runs.
Having a woman coach high-level youth sports is not new, especially if girls are involved. However, to have a female coach an all-boys team at a high level, especially a team with legitimate state championship aspirations, is rare.
Kneeland, along with Monica's husband, Wally, were the coaches for this year's team.
"She really knows her stuff, man or woman," said Kneeland. "She knows what she's doing out there and the kids really respect her."
"She loves coaching and she loves kids," Wally said. "It's in her blood."
One does not need to look far to see where Furrow's coaching pedigree comes from. Her father was longtime Belfast Area High School coach Dennis "Bear" Bryant, who had the school's football field named after him after he passed away in 2005.
Furrow, formerly Monica Bryant, was a three-sport athlete for BAHS, graduating in 1997. She played softball and field hockey for the Lions for four years and was a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference all-conference second baseman in softball.
"I attribute a lot of my knowledge and my enthusiasm to my dad," she said. "He coached when I was little and he coached Little League and football and basketball. Him and my brother would stay up late watching football and I'd always be the odd man out just listening to everything."
The close bond between her father and brother struck a chord with Furrow, and has passed that same union down to her own three children.
Not only does she view sports as a way to bond with her children, but with the youngsters and families in the community as well.
"I think I just grew up with it and saw how my dad changed lives," she said. "That's the other thing. I realize that I'm changing these kids' lives. If there's something they're not getting at home then they can come to the baseball field and let it all out. I'm there for them and they talk to me about stuff other than baseball. It's just a lot of fun."
Both Furrow and her husband are constants in the Thorndike area in youth sports, coaching soccer and basketball, along with Little League. They have coached their sons Colby, 12, and Draedyn, 7, along with their daughter Alyah, 9, in many sports, with Colby playing on the Waldo County 11-12 baseball team that won the District 2 title and went on to the state tournament.
Furrow is a passionate baseball fan and was one of the driving forces behind bringing back Waldo County Little League's farm league when her son Colby was seven years old. That development has proven a key element in the older teams' success over the past few years.
"I had a lot of the boys when they were younger," she said. "We're a close-knit town and Colby is friends with a lot of them so they come over and everything, so I think developing that relationship when they were young kids [was key]. They know who I am, they know how I conduct practices and I expect a lot out of them."
Furrow admitted there was trepidation from some parents — mothers in particular — that perhaps doubted her ability to lead their sons.
After leading her squad, in dominating fashion, to the district championship and to a successful run in the state tournament, those doubts vanished.
"[One of the mothers] actually sent me a text the other day and said she was absolutely wrong and she apologized," Furrow said. "She realized I prepare my kids during my practices better than most men coaches she sees."
There are, of course, always exceptions to the hard-and-fast coaching rule, which arose in the final play of this summer's 11-12 state tournament July 24 against Dirigo.
Waldo County trailed 11-10 with two out in the bottom of the sixth and final inning, with Furrow's son Colby at the plate with two runners on base.
"I had all the confidence that Colby would hit the ball [in that situation] and bring in that [tying] run," Furrow said. "And he popped it up to first base [to end the game] and he ran to the dugout all upset and crying. And I just said that I need to be his mom right now and I just need to hug him and hold him and cry with him and tell him he did OK."
Furrow also works part of baseball games in the all-important third-base coaching area, usually a role reserved for the most savvy of the baseball minds on the diamond, a role she fills perfectly.
"I'm comfortable and confident," she said. "I'm not always going to make the right call, but I like to be in charge. Ask Wally that."
"She might be a little control freak," he said. "And I'm probably easy going, so we're a good combination. And she's good at it."
Furrow enjoys coaching boys more than girls because boys "hearts are in it more" and they "have a little more fire," which is a connection she and her all-boys team obviously share.
However, Furrow would love to be a high school softball coach down the line, should the opportunity arise.
Furrow graduated from Thomas College in Waterville in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in medical assisting. She went on to nursing school at Kennebec Valley Community College and is a nurse at Waldo County General Hospital.
Needless to say, she has accomplished a great deal, both on and away from the diamond, especially at the recent state tournament.
"The word for the whole tournament was: 'Proud,' " she said. "That's something I live by. How proud I am of myself, how proud I make my dad and how proud I am of these 11 kids that put their heart and soul into that state tournament."
Courier Publications Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.