Mike Behre never imagined he would have a life in teaching and coaching.
After all, Behre spent 26 years of his life as a Bloomfield police officer, eventually reaching the rank of captain in the detective bureau in the early 1990s. Behre figured he was all set as a crime fighter in one of New Jersey’s biggest cities.
But then, Behre was assigned to organize the Bloomfield DARE program, where he would go to schools as a police officer and advise students about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol.
“I found out that I liked it,” Behre said.
One of Behre’s long-time and closest friends, Mike Carter, currently the Bloomfield High School football coach, gave Behre a piece of wisdom that went a long way.
“He said, ‘When you’re eligible to retire, you should consider teaching,’ ” Behre said.
So Behre then went back to school, attending New Jersey City University to earn his teaching certification. A long-time resident of Mount Olive, Behre began serving as a substitute teacher in the district where his three children (Christopher, Ashley and Billy) all attended.
Five years ago, a position opened up at the high school for a resource special educator, dealing with students who have special needs and giving them the opportunity to transition into general life, helping the students find employment.
“It was perfect for me,” Behre said.
At the same time, there was an opening for an assistant cross country and track coach.
“I ran cross country at Bloomfield High,” Behre explained. “I was an average runner, but when my kids were all little, they all ran. Ashley was like 6 years old and ran a mile race in school. Christopher followed along. It was natural for me.”
Behre said that he learned from the best in the business, namely long-time Mount Olive coach Dave Sulley, currently the boys’ track and field coach at Delbarton.
“Dave Sulley was my mentor,” Behre said. “He taught me everything I know. I spent six years with Dave and learned so much from him. If I still have a question, I get on the phone and call Dave. He’s the guru of cross country.”
When Sulley left Mount Olive, Behre was ascended to head coach of the girls’ cross country program.
It was a natural progression, considering Behre knew most of the runners since they were infants.
Try the Christian sisters. Sara and Mariah are twins and seniors on the Mount Olive cross country team. Alexandra is a sophomore. The sisters have all known Behre for as long as they can remember.
“He really is like our father,” Mariah Christian said.
Or the Schafer twins, seniors Lindsay and Erin.
“I think we’ve known him since we were four years old,” Lindsay Schafer said. “He worked with my Dad coaching Little League. He’s been like a second Dad to the whole team.”
So it’s only fitting that the Marauder girls all call Behre with a perfect nickname. He’s “Papa,” as in “Papa Behre.”
No, his wife Nadine does not want to be known as “Mama Behre.”
“I guess it started about seven or eight years ago,” Behre said. “Nicole Quagliana and Shannon Boise were running with my daughter Ashley and they had been around the house with us. One day, one of them called me ‘Papa’ and it stuck. That’s how it’s gone ever since.”
Behre was asked about his moniker.
“I guess it’s a fitting name,” Behre said. “It’s funny. I see them in school in the hallway and they call me that. To everyone else, I’m Mr. Behre. I guess I just go with the flow.”
Mike Behre has been the head girls’ cross country coach at Mount Olive for the last two seasons. He’s known nothing but success. The Marauders won the NJSIAA North 1 Group III championship in 2012. This year, the Marauders did it one better, capturing the state sectional again, but adding the overall Group III championship hardware to the Mount Olive trophy case, the first Group championship for Mount Olive since 1994.
Since he’s been the coach, Behre has done some quirky things, like reading inspirational speeches and race strategies as soon as the Marauders arrive at a race location, or offering chocolate milk and sliced watermelon after summer workouts.
“Having him as a coach has been incredible,” Erin Schafer said. “He really cares about us so much. He’s dedicated to us. He’s so dedicated to us that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. When you see that, you don’t want to let him down. He always makes things fun and interesting. He’s like our Dad. Whether we win or not, he’s always there. He’s a great coach.”
“The biggest thing is his heart,” Mariah Christian said. “He puts everything he has into coaching. He inspires us. He has these index cards with different sayings from different people to inspire us. It helps a lot. It gives us something to remember and shoot for. He may be a little corny, but he has so much love for everyone. I love it that he’s like that all the time.”
When the Marauders won the Group III championship last November, Behre was overjoyed, crying like a school girl.
“It just showed how much he loved our team,” Sara Christian said. “I think Papa wants it more than anyone else. He was so nervous and when we won, he was crying. He’s just the best coach anyone can ask for.”
Behre said that he’s always been an emotional person.
“That’s just me,” Behre said. “I’ve been like that in both jobs. I take things personal. I just think with this team, I watched them progress from where they were to where they became. It was all so rewarding to see. It’s amazing. I’m just a byproduct of the whole crew. Sulley was a big part of what was going on. I think going into the season, I would have been ecstatic to win the sectional again and qualify for the Group. But to win the Group? It’s beyond the wildest dream. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when they won.”
And the coach was there like a proud Papa, or better yet, make that Papa Behre, who now devotes his attention as the head coach of the Mount Olive ice hockey team.
“I’m just glad Nadine understands all of this,” Behre said.