1976. The United States Bicentennial. Rocky Balboa, the legend, made his move from leg-breaking for a loan shark to boxing immortality. Apple Computer Company originated. The ABA merged with the NBA. My old man’s high school coaching career began. His and my Yankees got swept by “The Big Red Machine.” Dad’s first year as head coach at Stratford Public School began with a 2-20 record. It was a year my father will never forget, not only because of that 2-20 record and the Yankees being swept, but also because, just like for Rocky Balboa, it was the beginning of a magical ride. Dad will never be forgotten and will be talked about on the mean streets of Colebrook forever.
Four more years followed that special 1976 year before the real ride began at Colebrook Academy. It was in 1980 that the landscape of Colebrook basketball and athletics would be changed forever, and in a very, very good way. After 42 years, 2 children, 3 grandchildren, 3 State Championships (should be 4 – don’t get me started on that), 3 State Runners-Up, 606 wins, several Coach of the Year awards, several Hall of Fame inductions, a few Player of the Year awards to his pupils, several First Team All-State Awards to his pupils, 2 Alhambra NH/VT All Star Classic games coached, several other All Star games coached, and an uncountable number of men he helped develop, that journey has finally come to an end. Colebrook basketball AND Colebrook, NH in general became well known because of this magical ride and this man, whom I have the honor of calling my father.
There are so many memories to recall in a story of this magnitude. I could go on for an endless number of pages. Those stories will be told around beers for years to come at “The Swamp,” at the lake house, at any Legion in the State of NH, at the Northland, around Dad or Mark’s kitchen table, in Dad and Mom’s kitchen or the basement, or any other of my father’s favorite landing spots to sit back and watch/discuss hoops.
Dad, or Coach to all of us former players, has much more of an impact on his players and former players than most people know. People don’t even remotely have a clue how much more. It goes way beyond basketball. He taught us so much about life through basketball as he transitioned us from boys running around raising hell and playing sports to men who continue to hold and execute professional occupations and families. We never even knew it until the last buzzer sounded in our final games, and we actually stepped foot into the real world. I use present tense in a lot of this, as I’m sure you can see. This is because he still gives all of us advice on anything we want, whenever we want it. There aren’t enough words to describe how important he is to us.
As his career moved along, it was the development of his basketball teams through the 90s into the early and late 2000s that really put Colebrook, NH on the map. He always refers to those years as “the glory years” of his program. Before then, nobody outside of the North Country even knew where Colebrook was. Dad always put so much time and dedication into building his program, and it was starting to really take off and show. It wasn’t a 9 to 5 job. It was a 24/7 passion because he truly loved us and cared about our success once we left his guidance. You simply do not see that type of commitment to one program, to one goal, to one community, to one community’s kids for so many years anymore from coaches or athletic directors. There is a lot of hopping around, or “resume building,” as they call it. You jump around from school to school, program to program, until you “land in the perfect spot.” Nobody wants to go to a program that needs to start over. Nobody wants to go to a program that isn’t already winning. They want that “dream job” that has already in a sense been created for them, instead of creating their dream for themselves, and for the kids they care so much about. Dad literally started from scratch before turning Colebrook Academy and Colebrook, NH and their kids into a perennial power. That’s what made his run so special. So much blood, sweat, tears, smiles, laughs and memories. Many frustrating times. Many triumphs. He did it the hard way. The way nobody else wants to do it.
Don’t forget, Dad also coached soccer for many years and baseball here and there and was the Athletic Director. His duties at Colebrook Academy went way past his basketball programs. As the Athletic Director, he cared about all his teams, boys and girls, and helped guide his coaches and those players in any way that he could. Those players and coaches too have many memories to share about Dad, and I will appropriately let them share those memories and experiences on their own accord. As the Athletic Director, he became very involved with the NHIAA at the administrator level. He traveled hours, leaving at 4:00 AM to get to 8:00 AM meetings, for FREE! Nobody does that anymore. At these meetings, he, along with Harry Blood and Gary Jenness, were the voices of the smaller schools. For Jenness and Dad, they were also the voices of the North Country. They made sure all the smaller schools and schools up North were given the same opportunities as all the bigger schools and the schools that were closer to where “everything was happening.” They were looking after their kids and giving them the same opportunities, because quite frankly, it wasn’t happening. Hopefully someone steps up and sacrifices those miles, those early mornings and late nights, and those tough meetings with so many people disagreeing with you, so that the student athletes at smaller schools and the northern schools continue to get everything they deserve, just like my old man and Jenness did. Dad truly was a pioneer of high school basketball and athletics.
As I said to start this story, I could go on and on with all the memories Dad’s players and I have had with him. Here are just a few:
• tough losses
• great wins
• the Colebrook/Groveton Rivalry
• “The Game” (you all know what game I’m talking about)
• “On the line.”
• “Everybody hates a winner.”
• “You have 5 minutes to get the **** out of this gym.”
• 8, 6, 4, 2’s (which now have turned into 6, 4, 2’s)
• gut busters
• the kill drill
• the many battles against the alumni at all the practices
• the infamous MaxPreps Internet blowup of 2001 (wow)
• the packed gyms
• the scouting reports on the wall at practices
• the smile/smirk he has when he’s actually happy but is trying so hard to not show he’s happy
• the high fives after big wins
• the broken clipboards
• jumping around pounding his chest like a wild animal which caused Coach Bedard and Coach Lesperance to leave the gym in laughter
• watching game tapes relentlessly with the team and by himself in the basement
• accidentally forgetting my shoes and coming home to hear Meat Loaf shaking the entire house while he showered getting ready for a big game
• “There! Finally someone is asking a smart question.”
• getting put in handcuffs in the McDonald’s parking lot in Littleton
• the lucky sweater of 1997 and 1998
• “If they score more than 10 points this half, you know what’s coming tomorrow at practice.”
• “If you first two strings are still playing by the 4 minute mark of the 3rd Quarter, I ain’t going to be happy. Go out and do the job.”
• “Excuses are for losers.”
• the grunt after every rant
• “Alright, bring it in…LET’S GO!”
I need to stop before the tear down the side of my right cheek turns into all-out bawling. Everyone that played under my old man remembers these memories. Forever, he will have a place in our hearts.
Here’s to your next chapter and many more years of memories to make! You have three beautiful granddaughters to attend to now with Mom, and hopefully you can help Corey, Alan, Danielle, and I shape them into fine young women, just like how you shaped all of us young and dumb teenagers into the men we are today. Don’t worry basketball family, he can’t get away, you will still see him in all the gyms, that’s without a doubt. I’m sure he will still be coaching away too, as it’s just pure instinct to him. CONGRATULATIONS, Coach! We love you.
PS – See you this weekend up north for Final Four weekend. Have you decided yet where you want to watch the games Saturday night?