When he was in the sixth grade, Jim Cotter's boyhood curiosity led him to a construction site on Columbia Point. He recalls that whatever structure was being built was just beginning to take shape. Concrete had been poured and steel girders reached towards the sky.
The young Cotter shimmied up one of the girders, and as he neared the top, he recalls a man dressed all in black calling after him. He asked the man what the structure was. The man in black told him it was to be a high school.
The man, it turns out, was a Jesuit. The girder was a part of BC High's foundation.
More than a half century since his curiosity got the best of him, Jim Cotter has become as much a part of the foundation at BC High as any steel girder. In that time, Cotter has coached thousands of players, and influenced countless others through his work as a teacher and counselor.
Cotter, who grew up in Savin Hill, attended BC High graduating in 1955. He played both football and baseball, and earned a scholarship to Boston College. After graduating BC and a stint in the army, Cotter went to work for an insurance company. He quickly realized that insurance wasn't his calling, and sought out a job as a teacher at his alma mater.
"I always thought I wanted to be in business," said Cotter. "But if I'd had a guidance counselor when I was in school, they probably would've have told me that teaching and coaching was what I was meant to do."
He was hired by BC High and, in the fall of 1960, began what would be 44 years of work at the school. That year, he taught American history and served as an assistant coach with the football, baseball, and basketball teams. By 1964, he was the head football coach, a post he's held ever since.
Across parts of five decades, Cotter has compiled one of the most impressive records in the state. He's had 35 winning seasons en route to accumulating 232 wins. He's coached two teams to Super Bowl championships, first in 1977 and again in 2000.
But the numbers don't tell the whole story of Jim Cotter's legacy at BC High.
For Cotter, football served as a prism through which he taught his players valuable life lessons.
"He taught us about hard work, and that there were no short cuts," said Leo Smith a 1978 graduate of BC High who played for Cotter on the '77 state championship team.
"So many lessons have stuck with me - loyalty, honesty, integrity, and generosity," said BC High principal Steve Hughes, a '73 graduate of BC High who played for Cotter and now has worked alongside him for over 20 years.
Cotter sees his coaching as the most enjoyable part of his tenure at BC High, but when asked about what was most rewarding part of the last 44 years he points to his work as a guidance counselor from 1971 to 1998.
"I loved guidance. Helping kids get into good schools and college placement was probably the most rewarding," said Cotter.
"People talk about him as a football coach, but the other things he did, as a guidance counselor, getting kids into college, that's his legacy," said Smith.
Jack Dunn graduated BC High in '79. He played for Cotter and later worked alongside him on the staff at BC High, and recalls Cotter's generosity. "I watched him go above and beyond the call to help students," said Dunn. "He did so many things for people that went unnoticed that made a tremendous impact on people's lives."
In recent years, Cotter has gradually scaled back his duties at BC High. First retiring from the guidance department in 1998, then turning over the reigns as athletic director in 2001.
This season will be Jim Cotter's last walking the sidelines at BC High. At 67, the work of coaching takes more than Cotter can offer, though he's not leaving the school entirely. He's taking a post as a special assistant to the president where he'll work on alumni relations.
After all, once the girders are built onto, they can't just be taken away.