Updated @ 4 pm on July 10, 2021
Armand Sabourin, 83, the legendary Bedford High School teacher and coach whose passion and integrity influenced thousands of lives, died Friday morning at his daughter’s home after a long period of declining health.
Visiting hours are scheduled for Tuesday from 5 to 8 pm at the Tighe-Hamilton Regional Funeral Home, 50 Central St., Hudson. A Mass of Christian Burial is planned for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in St. Michael Church, 21 Manning St., Hudson with burial to follow in Forestvale Cemetery on Broad Street.
Sabourin taught mathematics at BHS for more than 30 years. He began his 32-year tenure as head football coach in 1968, retiring after the 1999 season, six years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He was also a varsity baseball coach for several years.
The football field, which is also used for other team sports as well as outdoor town meetings and graduation, was named in honor of Coach Sabourin in September 2013. He was a charter member of the BHS Sports Hall of Fame and a member of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association and Baseball Coaches Halls of Fame.
Sabourin, 83, grew up in Northbridge and was an outstanding varsity baseball player at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was named student-athlete of the year as a senior in 1960. He served in the Army and taught and coached for five years in Clearwater, FL, before joining the BHS faculty and coaching staff.
Tributes from former players and colleagues began pouring in Friday, several of them from current and former Bedford first responders. Football alumni on the Police Department range from Mark Barbieri, BHS ’78, to Gary Martin, BHS ’96.
“As a coach, you couldn’t ask for better,” said police Lt. Scott Jones, BHS ’81, who played football and baseball. “And he was a good person, always checking in on you. He was instrumental in getting us ready; conditioning was the key.”
“He was the most unforgettable man in my life,” declared retired firefighter Joe LaDow, BHS ’72. “He was so humble he never realized how many young men he touched in such a beautiful way,”
Bob Petrillo, retired athletic director, was an assistant coach throughout Sabourin’s career. “He was like a father to me,” said Petrillo, who regularly visited Sabourin through his 20 years of retirement. “I got offers to coach at other places. Why would I want to coach at other places?
“The kids played for him – not out of fear, but because nobody ever wanted to disappoint him as a coach,” Petrillo said. “And not one time did he ever put the team down. When he would speak to the team, there would be silence.”
“There was nobody in the world tougher than Armand,” he added. “Nobody endured as much as he has and never complained.” Besides Parkinson’s, the retired coach battled cancer and heart problems and lost his ability to see and hear.
“His values were his centerpiece,” asserted former Superintendent of Schools Joseph Buckley. “Leaders always lead through behavior based on their values and Armand was a champion in that regard.” Buckley, who had lunch with the retired coach from time to time, added, “He always had a positive spin on life.”
“A lot of Bedford Bucs are heartbroken,” said Bill Elias, BHS ’72, who retired in 2018 after spending some 40 years as a college football coach and athletics director. “He was as demanding in the classroom as he was on the field. I probably think about Coach Sabourin every day. He was the one who kept many of us going the right way. And for me and my brother, that was absolutely critical.”
Kelly “Mike” Elias, BHS ‘74, whose football career continued at Boston College, reflected that Coach Sabourin and his assistants “weren’t that much older than us.” Yet he realized that Sabourin was “one of a kind,” adding that the coach was very religious. “Time is undefeated,” he observed.
The Eliases’ father was an assistant coach with the former Boston Patriots. “I became a coach for two reasons,” Bill Elias said. “One was my dad and the other was Coach Sab.”
“He was a good coach – and a good person,” said Todd Russell, BHS ’80, who went on to excel at Boston College Eagles. “We all loved him.” Tim French, BHS ’83, who played six or seven seasons for Sabourin in baseball and football, testified, “I don’t think anyone ever asked more of me -0- and I was more than willing to do it.”
Dennis Taylor, BHS ’90, an all-star in baseball, said Sabourin was “like a second dad to me. I truly loved the guy—I just had so much respect for him.” He recalled that practice was always fun as well as a learning experience. A passionate student-athlete, Taylor chuckled that Sabourin “was the only one who could calm me down.”
“ ‘A life that touches others goes on forever’ applies perfectly to Coach Sabourin,” said Taylor’s classmate Lennox Chase, BHS ’90. “He was a guiding force for many of us. He taught us that a person can succeed at anything when they have unlimited enthusiasm.”
Colin Ross, BHS ’93, who played college football at Furman, pointed out that Sabourin-coached teams never piled up points when a win was in hand. “I remember a game when I had almost 200 yards rushing in the first half,” he said. “I spent the second half on the sideline.”
Sabourin was “as much a part of Bedford as the Bedford Flag,” Ross remarked. “He touched a lot of people’s lives, including mine.” Jonathan Hamby, BHS ’91, agreed. “He was so important to so many people.”
Petrillo said Sabourin and his wife Judy insisted on remaining in their home, regardless of their health challenges. “She called me three days ago and said they had arranged for the last rites.” Children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren had time for a final visit. The Sabourins have two sons and a daughter. Their son Jim succumbed to an illness in 2009.
He remembered his first meeting with the head coach—in August of 1968 at a coaches’ clinic in Andover. “We sat down under a tent and ate chicken at a picnic table.” As an assistant coach, “He allowed me to be myself,” Petrillo said. Long-term assistants “didn’t want to leave. He treated us as equals all the time.”
Longtime sportswriter Wayne Braverman, BHS ’72, enjoyed a lengthy window on the coach’s BHS career covering the team. “He said on many occasions, ‘Coaching is the same thing as teaching.’ That wasn’t just some nice feel-good statement he used– it’s what he truly believed and how he coached football and baseball,” Braverman said.
“It was inspiring to watch him in practices and on the sidelines during games,” he continued. “I remember one game with a player messed up and came to the sideline, feeling angry and bad about it. Sab put his arm around the kid’s shoulder and said, ‘We can’t do anything about that now, it’s already happened. Put it aside and move on. You’ll get another chance.’”
Rich Fedele, BHS ‘90, and Greg Trelegan, BHS ’01, both played football and baseball. They never crossed paths as student-athletes but both benefited from college recommendations written by Coach Sabourin to schools where he starred.
“I was the first kid in my family to go to college,” said Fedele, who pitched at UMass Amherst. “Coach Sab wrote my recommendation – he told me he went there.” Sabourin played from 1958 to 1960, when he was team captain. Trelegan said Sabourin wrote him a “stellar recommendation” to Dean College in Franklin; the coach played football and baseball at Dean and is a member of the school’s hall of fame, class of 1956.
“Your coaches are such a huge part of who you are, and I’ve relayed that message to my kids and their coaches,” Fedele said. “He made you believe in yourself.” Along with Assistant Coach Jim Sullivan, “He really motivated through positive reinforcement and team play.”
Trelegan was a holdover on the football varsity when Sullivan succeeded Sabourin in 2000. The retired coach, Trelegan recalled, “was out on the practice field with Coach Sullivan. He wasn’t a coach per se but he was out there every day.”
“He said he wanted to help his students to understand that ‘everything we do on the football field and in life is a chance to learn, grow and to be better people,’” Braverman remembered. “He didn’t see the football program as being about himself. He always acknowledged his players and his team of assistant coaches, many of whom were with the program for years. For Sab, what was accomplished on the field was because of what the team did as a whole.”
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the James Sabourin Fellowship Award at Brandeis University (https://heller.brandeis.edu/news/items/releases/2009/sabourin.html) or a charity of your choice.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763