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Sport’s men of faith

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Coaching prowess is on display as football finals roll around but when it comes to seeking the best from football, the records of names like Wayne Bennett or the late Jack Gibson in Rugby League or Ron Barassi or the late Tom Hafey in the AFL may be pushed aside.

An American gridiron coach who didn’t take on any top level NFL team deserves accolades ahead of the legendary Vince Lombardi who led the Green Bay Packers to win five championships in seven years or Don Shula who gave the Miami Dolphins the only perfect season in that competition in 1972.

Photo: DFree/Shutterstock
Photo: DFree/Shutterstock

Bob Ladouceur surely takes the ultimate prize for overseeing 151 consecutive wins – including 20 seasons without losing a game – and he merits special consideration in this publication because of his faith.

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He coached the De La Salle College Spartans at Concord, California, for 34 years until retiring in January 2013 and combined his football role with being a teacher of religion.

“I think your religious faith is a part of you (that) you carry everywhere you go. I didn’t see any type of inconsistency in the two aspects at the school I was involved in,” Bob told a Catholic newspaper in California around the time of the release of a movie dealing with his coaching career.

When the Game Stands Tall is the film which, released prior to Jarryd Hayne’s well publicised move to the NFL, failed to score major distribution in Australia.

My viewing came on an aircraft when the exterior sign at the school appeared on a fellow passenger’s screen and raised interest because of the DLS (De La Salle)
connection to my education.

Despite patchy reviews from the critics, the movie which is based on a book of the same name prompted many positive internet comments from people who have seen it.

“It shows the impact that one man can have on a community … He taught love and brotherhood … Led by example” are among reactions from the audience.

Another viewer comment said the story highlighted the work/life balance issue covered here on the recent Fathers’ Day weekend: “This movie has inspired me to not only be a better person but to be a better coach, and spend more time with my family.”

Ladouceur had difficulties balancing his work demands against the needs of his home life with wife Beverly and family and at one stage he also coached his son, admitting later that it was “good and not so good … he understood that I had to wear two different hats”.

As a coach, he also delivered a eulogy for player Terrance Kelly whom he described as a great leader and good student with a promising future but who was shot dead one night in 2004 while trying to pick up a friend in Richmond, California, but “I never wanted to use Terrance as a motivator, ever. I thought it would be disrespectful”, he said.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27) was among the scripture quotes that Bob Ladouceur put before his players.

Former student Mark Stricherz has written of his experiences in also taking a religion class delivered by the coach and recorded: “Players prayed, read scripture, and talked about their hopes and fears at a weekly chapel service on campus”.

Young Mark named humility, solidarity and hard work as the ingredients of Ladouceur’s success – along with his faith.

“When does faith and anything not come together?” the coach told this former student.

“You carry your faith everywhere, and you can’t take it off like a shirt or anything like that. It’s a part of you … and I have always believed that wherever we’re going or
whatever we do, we carry our faith with us and try to act from that as best we can … Football is no different,” he said.

Despite offers to rise further on the sporting ladder, including one from Stanford University, the teaching coach remained at the Concord school from age 25 until his retirement at 58.

In addition to setting a coaching record, Bob Ladouceur brought alive the motto of that DLS school: “Les hommes de foi” – “men of faith”.

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