Underwood was more than a baseball man
- Updated: January 29, 2023
NOTE: The following story ran in the New Hampshire Sunday News. There is a link to read the entire story, but a subscription may be required.
As much as Tom Underwood loved baseball, he loved helping his players and students reach their full potential even more.
Underwood, one of three New Hampshire high school baseball coaches in history to reach 500 career wins, died Wednesday at age 72. He is survived by his wife, Debbie, daughter Tara and sons Kyle and Tom Jr.
Underwood retired in 2015 after 43 seasons leading the Plymouth Regional High School baseball team. The Campton resident amassed a 518-257 career record, six state championships and 13 state title game appearances.
Former Bishop Guertin, Milford and Souhegan coach Bill Dod (549) and the late Bob Burns (513), who coached Kennett for 42 years, are the only other coaches to reach the 500-win mark.
“He always put his players first,” said Plymouth baseball coach Mike Boyle, who played for Underwood in Little League, Babe Ruth and high school and later served as his assistant coach. “Just truly a mentor of the game and of young kids growing up.”
Underwood is best known for his baseball coaching career but also coached football and taught eighth-grade math at Plymouth Elementary School, which is kindergarten-through-eighth grade, for 40-plus years.
Whenever an athletic program needed help, 43-year Plymouth Regional athletic director and football coach Chuck Lenahan turned to Underwood.
Underwood, who Lenahan hired in 1972 after he graduated from Gorham (Maine) State Teachers College, was Plymouth Regional’s first cross-country coach and coached junior varsity basketball at the high school for about 10 years. Alongside football duties at Plymouth Elementary, Underwood also coached the school’s wrestling team for about 20 years and eventually became its athletic director.
Both the Plymouth Elementary football and wrestling teams were close to folding when Underwood took over, said Lenahan, who became close friends with Underwood over their time working together. Underwood turned both into strong feeder programs for the high school.
“Whatever we needed Tom Underwood to do, he did it and never complained and the kids at every level loved him,” said Lenahan, who retired as Plymouth’s football coach in 2013 after accumulating a 356-70-1 record and 20 state championships over 43 seasons.
Current Plymouth Regional football coach Chris Sanborn played baseball for Underwood while in high school from 1988-92. Underwood later gave Sanborn his first coaching job as an assistant on the Plymouth Elementary football staff.
Underwood, a former president of the Baseball Coaches Association of New Hampshire, had high expectations for all his players, Sanborn said.
“That was the thing playing for him,” Sanborn said. “If you didn’t want to do it, someone else was going to do it-type thing. I always kind of appreciated that. That’s kind of how I am a little bit.”
Boyle, who graduated from Plymouth Regional in 2004, said Underwood always put his players first and had a hard-nosed, informative coaching style. Underwood could be a hard coach, Sanborn said, but so many of his players fondly remember their time playing for him.
“We expected a lot of the kids — both of us,” Lenahan said. “We’d say, ‘You know what? You expect nothing, you’re going to get nothing. You expect a lot and that’s what they’re going to get.’ … We always put the team first. That was our motto.”
Former Union Leader sportswriter Kevin Gray played both football and baseball for Underwood. In Gray’s senior baseball season at Plymouth Regional, the Bobcats were the 1989 Class I runners-up, falling to an undefeated Oyster River team in the final.
Growing up in the Plymouth area, Underwood and Lenahan were the coaches kids aspired to play for, Gray said.
“(He) made you play better than you thought you could,” said Gray, who founded the New Hampshire Bobcats travel baseball program. “Someone who knew how to either kick you in the butt or pat you on the back. You knew he was 100% there for the kids.”
Gray, who now lives in Bow, chose the Bobcats name for his program to honor both Underwood and his connection to Plymouth.