Every athlete has had a coach who has inspired them; pushed them; motivated them to be the best. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve had two. In a small town in south-central Massachusetts exist some of the best around. From pee-wee soccer (Coach Mark Brown) to high school football (Coach Ken LaChapelle), kids in the sleepy community of Northbridge have it made; and while Pro Sports Chick likes to keep the focus on national sporting news, every once in a while, a local legend deserves recognition. After all, every professional athlete was once coached as a child, and who knows, maybe it was a coach who made the difference between Tom Brady the Quarterback and Tom Brady the Accountant.
We will be running a series on Pro Sports Kids about great coaches around the country. Before we launch that series, however, I thought it important to recognize a milestone that will soon be reached by one of the best coaches I have ever played for: Coach Ken LaChapelle. ‘Coach Lach’ as he is known to students, citizens and coworkers has been at the helm of the Northbridge football program since 1976. He also served as the Athletic Director for decades, taught physical education, and coached girls’ softball. He also used to drive a badass white stingray Corvette that pretty much every kid at NHS coveted.
With a win against Southbridge next Friday night, September 28th, Coach Lach will earn win #300 in his career. He is currently the third winningest (not a word, get over it) in Massachusetts history, and one of the only guys on the list who is STILL coaching. With 17 more wins, he will move into the #1 spot. This feat will most likely be accomplished next season. What’s more impressive is that unlike many of the coaches on the list, he has coached for one program his entire career: The Northbridge Rams.
I had the opportunity to speak with one of Coach’s former players, Jimmy. It should be noted that Jimmy is a Coach himself, having recently taken over the helm of the Blackstone Valley Tech Beavers football team. Under his tutelage, the Beavers have improved exponentially. He had nothing but glowing praise for his former Coach and friend, Ken LaChapelle.
What do you think is Coach Lach’s legacy, not just in Northbridge, but in coaching in general?
Obviously the wins speak for themselves. Three hundred is such a huge number and the rate at which he wins is what amazes me. Coach won his 200th game against Leicester in 2001, so that means he has won 100 games in 11 years. That is unheard of these days. I think aside from the wins and the 10 Super Bowl Championships, the thing that really defines his legacy is that he has done it at one school, and that school is not a private school or a school with 3,000 kids. The schools like St. Johns, Everett, Brockton … they SHOULD win every year based on numbers alone. Coach has put Northbridge on the map through football and running a successful operation for the last 40 years.
Did Coach serve as a mentor to you, and what impact did that relationship have on your life/career?
I think anyone who has played for coach has looked up to him in one form or another. I can only speak for myself, but I can say that every time I see him we always have a great conversation and he is interested in you as a person and the subject isn’t always about football. The things I have learned from playing for Coach are apparent in my own everyday coaching life. Dealing with kids, on and off the field, play calling, philosophies etc…My kids even joke that we are now “Northbridge Tech” because I strongly believe in what I was taught as a player by Coach Lach and if I’m going to model my offense after anyone’s, it’s going to be modeled after the best play caller I have ever been around.
Did Coach inspire or influence your decision to coach yourself?
Not really. I knew in high school that I wanted to coach and I think that was more because I understood the game and what was going on around me. Obviously, having spent time around Coach, there are things that you pick up and learn. Now, 10 years later, looking at what he has accomplished I find myself influenced more by him. I look at what he has done over his time with the program and I want to do that with my own program. I can only hope to have half the success he has had and touch half as many lives.
As a former player, what was it like to play for him?
It was the best. In the years I played, we were very good. It was awesome. We enjoyed being at practice, being around each other and coach creates that atmosphere. I remember when I went to my first practice for the Central-Western Mass Shriner Chowder Bowl Classic and the Clinton coaches were running the offense. All they did was run the ball. It was so boring. That’s when you realize how lucky you were to have played football at Northbridge High School.
What do people not know about Coach off the field?
No matter what, he is always thinking football. I remember my senior year, the fall of 2001, we came in on Monday for our “add day” where we went over the new plays for the week. He had drawn up plays on a church bulletin during Sunday’s service and brought them in. I don’t know why, but we all thought that was hysterical. Coach thought nothing of it. I think because of football, he gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so. As great of a football coach as he is, I think he is an even better man.
Coach Lach doesn’t just believe in the great players, though. He champions the underdog, and is patient; giving everyone the time and attention they need to learn a sport. He yelled when he had to, but mostly laughed. He loved a terrible player who was a great teammate more than a great player with a poor attitude. For that, he will always be a hero to many kids that have come through the Northbridge school system. This is echoed by former player, Mark Blette:
“Coach always knew how to get the best out of you no matter what size you were or what background you came from. He saw potential in every kid and gave kids a chance to succeed. He is a great leader and should be recognized for it! Truly an inspiration to all.”
Coach Ken LaChapelle and the Northbridge Rams will try for Coach’s 300th win next Friday evening, September 28th, at 7:00pm at Southbridge High School (25 Cole Avenue, Southbridge, MA). Pro Sports Chick will be there, let us know if you will be too!