This one hurts to the core, and this has been the single most difficult edition of Town Times I’ve had to do in 27 years, so please bear with me.
Roger Ouellette was more than just a coach to me; he was a friend of close to 40 years, going back to when he took over as head football coach at New Fairfield High School in the early 80’s.
I was the sports director at WINE-AM and I-95 FM in Danbury in those days, doing high school football and basketball play by play.
New Fairfield was among the first schools in the state to start playing their games on Friday night’s and with a real good team, we decided it would be a great idea to carry their games in addition to our usual Saturday afternoon games.
It was also an extra game check for me, which I was quick to remind Roger.
“Yeah, but do I get anything out of the 15 minutes I spend with you on the pre-game show asking your stupid questions?,” he replied with a grin.
On a foundation of wise-assery, a friendship was born.
There was the time I wasn’t prepared for how cold it got one night prior to kickoff, the jacketb I had on was way too light and coach saw me shivering on the sideline.
“How long have you been coming here, you dumb (bleep)?,” he said, before digging into a pile and giving me a team jacket to wear.
“What about socks?,” I asked.
“Don’t press your luck, you dumb (bleep),” he said with a smirk.
Decades later I would remind him of those times, reminding him that he had a full head of hair in those days.
“(Bleep) you, you (bleep)!,” he would fire back. At least you now know the right jacket to wear don’t you?”
Yes I did...most of the time.
Remembering the good times most of us in the community had with Roger over the years will help (somewhat) ease the intense pain we feel right now.
After our careers took us in different directions, we we not in touch for awhile.
Then I came to Watertown in April of 1994, went to a game at Deland Field where I re-introduced myself and he said, “How could I forget you?”
I’ll forever be grateful to him for letting people in and around town know and trust me, joining a select group which included Rico Brogna, Sean Butterly, Joe Romano and Keith Borkowski, soon to be joined by Jerry Valentino.
A bachelor back in the early days, coach informed me that he’d been married in the meantime.
“Yeah, I saw her painting in the Sistine Chapel with all the other saints,” I said.
“(Bleep) you, you (bleep),” he said.
Linda Ouellette is a strong, smart, courageous, outgoing woman, and as all wives and girlfriends are at one time or another, a true saint.
She was the love of his life, and I ache for her and Roger III, Brian and Alyssa.
I truly don;t know what I’m going to say when I see them at the services sometime next week.
It was a joy to work with Roger; he always had a good quote after a game; he was old-school, honest and sometimes that rubbed a suit the wrong way.
For instance, we all remember the days when the Mills Complex field was grass.
Well, before one game, the topsoil was contaminated with glass, rocks and other assorted hazards to players.
Instead of letting it go, coach and some of the players collected the hazards and he talked to the media about it, which didn’t sit well at all with one of the revolving-door of school superintendents who was just passing through and in CYA mode.
Coach may have zipped his lip in public, but not in private, and most importantly, it helped fuel the movement to getting a permanent artificial playing surface installed.
He was fierce on the sidelines, but never ran up the score on an out-matched opponent, although the Indians weren’t returned the favor by some Belichick wann-bes on occasion.
We had a shared passion for the Yankees and the Jets.
Oh, the Jets and what they put us through; I regret we never got to go to a game together.
Heopfully, Roger can influence some important folks up there to give Gang Green fans a break, starting this season.
We parted ways at Notre Dame football; oh, did he give me grief about them, especially after UConn beat them several years ago.
Oh man, he could needle like few people I’ve known, but it was always followed by a mischevious smirk.
“Still gonna go parading around in that (bellp) Notre Dame hoodie of yours?,” he said to me on that occasion and quite a few others.
“I’d take Southern (his alma mater) over them right now,” he’d say, hoping as always to escalate the situation.
If you could stick the needle right back, you were gold.
In my own little tribute to him on Sunday, I stood in his old coaching box at third base wearing that NOtre Dame hoodie with a Jets’ t-shirt on underneath.
Our little secret, okay?
It bothered some over-sensitive people when one of his players would look at a called strike or two, nod that it was a good pitch, only to hear Ouellette roar back, “well if they’re such good pitches, why aren’t you swinging at them?!?!?”
You knew when the Indians had a runner on third and less than two outs with the right hitter at the plate, odds were a suicide squeeze was coming.
“I know they know it’s coming, but I dare you to stop it if we execute,” said Ouellette, whose calls succeeded far more than they didn’t in a time when the game was played differently than it is now.
His smile at the local parade after the 1997 state championship as he lifted the title placque aboive his head was a sight I’ll never forget.
I know I have a picture of it somewhere and it would be on these pages if I could find it...maybe someone out there has a copy.
We lived about a half-mile away from each other, and sometimes our paths would cross when one or both of us was out walking; they became walks whwr we would talk about anything and everything under the sun, sometimes ending up on the Ouellette front porch on Scott Avenue.
Good times, fun times, lots of laughs and (bleeps).
Roger, Linda and the family was there for me when I needed them, and I’d like to think I was there for them when they needed me; after all, that is what true friendship is all about.
The only thing I couldn’t get him to do was come back to a Circle of Sports banquet so I could introduce him and induce the crowd to give him the rousing hand he deserved for everything he did for the community, the school and most of all, the kids (now adults) who always called him ‘Coach.”
“I know what you’d try to do, you (bleep)!, he’d say when I’d take a another fruitless crack at it.
I’m going to miss the hell out of Roger Ouellette; say what you will about him, and many did, but he was pure Watertown and we’ll not see the likes of him any time soon.
He’ll read this in the afterlife and probably call me a (bleep) for writing this when we meet up again.
At least I hope he will, but in the meantime: Godspeed, Coach.
If you have an anecdote or memory about Coach Ouellette that you’d like to share with us, feel free!
Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.