Karen McLaughlin, a physical education teacher at Methuen High School who also coaches the school’s field hockey and girls’ basketball teams, instills in her players that performance in the classroom is their most important goal. Here she oversees her field hockey team’s warmup session during a recent practice., VALLEY DISPATCH/BENJAMIN J. MCELROY
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BY GAYLE SIMONE, Valley Dispatch Staff

Coach. Teacher. Mother. Wife.

Those are the different hats worn by Karen McLaughlin every day.

A mother of three, McLaughlin has been a physical education teacher for 27 years, the past 10 at Methuen High School.

“I really like teaching phys ed,” McLaughlin said. “We get a mix of everything — students who want to participate, ones that don’t and of course, the athletes.

Every five days the kids get to pick a new activity, whether it’s volleyball, hockey or basketball. We give them choices of what they can do in class. To me it keeps the interest level in the class.”

But she loves to coach. She is the coach of two varsity teams at Methuen, field hockey and girls’ basketball.

“I started coaching in 1979 and I think I’m in my 19th or 20th year coaching now,” said McLaughlin. “It’s funny though. I honestly don’t know my coaching record. I find out every year when I read the preview of the teams in the paper.”

This shows that winning is not everything to McLaughlin, and she brings that philosphy to her teams.

“Win or lose, we always stress to go out there and give it 100 percent,” McLaughlin explained. “Sometimes you might win a game and you might not feel good about it because the effort wasn’t there and they didn’t play to their potential. Win or lose we want them to walk off the court or playing field knowing they did their best. And they can only do that if they gave the full 100 percent.”

McLaughlin also has the double duty of being the coach and a mom on the field, Her two daughters, Colleen, now at Stonehill College, and Elizabeth, a Methuen High senior, have played for her through their high school careers. Her daughters have always had to try harder to prove to their teammates that they were not being favored.

“It’s hard. You always have one or two girls that think, ‘she’s just here because her mother is the coach,’” McLaughlin said. “And then they see them play and see that like them, they are a part of the team and do not receive special treatment.”

Between sleepovers and being friends with her daughters, McLaughlin has become a surrogate mother to some of the athletes she has coached over the years.

“I have a lot of respect for the girls I coach,” McLaughlin said. “I wouldn’t trade any of them. They are all great, great kids. None of them are going to go on and be professional athletes, but they have the fact they are terrific students and terrific kids to fall back on.”

McLaughlin feels that good academics and representing Methuen High School is a priority.

“When we returned in September, I sent a note to all the teachers with a list of all my returning basketball players on it. I told them if they have any type of problem with any of the girls to let me know. I also did the same for field hockey.”

McLaughlin is somewhat envious of the girls she coaches because they have so many choices when it comes to sports.

“It’s hard for the kids to imagine, but when I was in school I went to a private Catholic school,” McLaughlin explained. “We basically had field hockey and basketball. We didn’t have the youth programs the kids have today, so the girls to me are very lucky.”

But as much as she loves coaching, don’t expect to see her on the sidelines for another 10 to 15 years.

“Ten years from now, I want to be in Florida or something,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t see myself coaching in 10 years. Absolutely not.”

Before she retires though, McLaughlin and her husband, Francis, who works in the Lawrence School District, want to make sure their three children have a great education and are self-sufficient.

“My son, Michael, is a senior (history major) at Holy Cross, my middle daughter Colleen is playing field hockey at Stonehill College and my youngest, Elizabeth, is a senior here at Methuen,” McLaughlin said. “We want to make sure they can take care of themselves before we retire.”

Although with all three children out of the house this coming fall, McLaughlin said it will be a lot easier for her physically but not necessarily emotionally.

“I’ll have less picking up to do, less laundry, less lunches to make,” McLaughlin said. “But I will miss them. Thank God for cell phones and computers; that’s how I talk to my son everyday. I see my oldest daughter at least two to three times a week because I go to her field hockey games. I have not missed one of her games yet. I’ve been to Pennsylvania twice this year and Vermont once. Wherever she is, I’m there.”

Unfortunately, McLaughlin missed her first game on Oct. 20 because both she and her college daughter had games scheduled at the same time.

“At the beginning of the school year, the first thing we do is plug all the games and activities into the calendar so we make sure one of us will always be there to support our children.”