Unsung hero leading the charge for 27 years
by Jack Deming
Mar 20, 2014 | 4778 views | 0 0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jack "Jacko" Roche
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WILMINGTON- It’s been two weeks since basketball season wrapped up for the Twin Valley Wildcat teams, and for players and coaches alike, one thing remained constant: coaches Chris Brown and Buddy Hayford led the teams on the hardwood, while Jack Roche led the parents and fans on the bleachers.

Perhaps best known for vocalizing the trumpet part before a resounding “Charge” from the stands, Roche is not just an avid basketball fan, he’s an avid fan of Twin Valley sports, attending all home soccer, basketball, and baseball games, and as many away games as he can. “Jacko” as he’s known to players, parents, fans, and coaches, has become an icon over the past 27 years, and synonymous with Twin Valley athletics.

So how did he become such a big part of Twin Valley sports? It happened by chance in the fall of 1987, Hayford’s first year back as boys soccer coach after returning from graduate school. A group of Hayford’s players met Jacko, who fired off some jokes and animal impressions at them.

“The boys said ‘We found this great guy down the street and he’s so funny,’ said Hayford. “They asked ‘Can we have him be our manager. So I told them to bring him over, and let me meet the guy. So then I met Jack, and as they say, the rest is history.”

Since that chance meeting in 1987, “Fast Jack” as he was known then, has been Hayford’s right hand man, so much so that Hayford, who has worked at the school for 32 years, jokes, “When Jack’s leaving, I’m leaving.” Now at the age of 69, Roche admits he’s slowed down quite a bit and prefers the nickname “Slow Jack,” but he has been rock steady in his fandom, in his duties, and in his support for the kids who come through the athletic programs.

“I liked the kids and wanted to be around the kids,” said Roche. “What makes them great is their experience and knowhow, and how they play these sports. Personally, they have a really great attitude, and I think they’re great kids.”

Roche lives in Dover and has called the valley home since 1976. He worked as a dishwasher during the busy winter season at establishments from TC’s in Dover to the Old Red Mill in Wilmington until he retired, which gave him more time to go to basketball games. One of his biggest hobbies is learning about astronomy and aeronautics, and he’s quick to the draw with a quote from any John Wayne movie.

Hayford’s partnership with Jacko has helped him manage all of the work involved with full-time teaching, coaching three teams, and being athletic director for the high school. Roche works with Hayford throughout the week, running errands, checking his mail, and making copies. “He’s my assistant. The stuff he does is invaluable, and he does literally 100 different things for the program. It could be making sure everything gets on and off the bus, or it could be folding brochures for next fall’s parent-coach meeting. I mean, I can’t do it all myself and to have Jack here, he means everything to me, and in turn it benefits us all.”

One of the more famous moments from Roche’s tenure with Hayford has been the employment of rubber chickens. An old tradition he created, Jacko used to write the name of teams the soccer squads had beaten in the playoffs on a rubber chicken and hang it in Hayford’s office after each victory. While the tradition has waned over the years, Roche revived it for the boy’s teams historic run to a state championship last fall. That championship was one of Roche’s favorite moments of the past 27 years. “That was a really nice day,” said Jacko. “They took it to us the year before, but Coach said we’re going to take it and they did.”

As for Hayford, Roche believes there’s no one better in the business. “Buddy loves working with kids, it’s an automatic thing for him and that’s why I like working with him.”

Hayford said that while Roche means a lot to him, he means just as much to the players. “We didn’t need to win the soccer championship for it to be a big moment. He takes such pride in our teams and in our kids that we could win a regular season game that is meaningless, but to him it’s still important, and when we lose, he’s always there for a kind word or a pat on the back.

“Sometimes I sit back and wonder, what would it be like if he wasn’t here,” continued Hayford. “There would be a gigantic hole. He fires up the players and he’s as responsible for as much motivation as I am or any of the captains are. You all see how he can fire up a crowd, but he can fire up a team in the locker room too, and that makes him invaluable, and in that role, he’s like an assistant coach.”

Roche has a great memory when it comes to Wilmington/Twin Valley sports, and can recall everything from championship scores and old preseason training techniques Hayford used in the late 1980s to the countless hundreds of players names that have made their way through the school’s athletics programs.

For Roche, Twin Valley sports are not just a hobby, they’re a way of life, and for Hayford, Jacko is the second half of a dynamic duo. “With all the work that he does for me, it’s work he’s doing for the kids, and the program in general.”
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