My old high school football, basketball and golf coach passed away last week. Ray Odette was a young 72 years old when he died from complications of a stroke at his home in St. George.
In his later years, he valiantly and nobly battled cancer before suffering the stroke. With his passing, I think, a little bit of me goes too.
My experience with Ray Odette started before high school, when he was my sixth grade science and PE teacher.
We had a powerhouse line up of teachers that year. Ray’s brother, Bert, was the math teacher, Ty Lewis, the reading teacher with the respected Helen Parry as the language arts teacher. Sixth grade was a blast with the Mr. Odettes because they loved sports.
Ray was also the assistant football and basketball coach at the high school and when my class graduated from grade school and went to the high school, Ray came along, teaching science and becoming the head coach in football, basketball and golf, in all of which I participated.
We felt like Mr. Odette moved to the high school because of our class. He never said so in so many words, but indicated it occasionally, or least we thought he did.
We thought of ourselves as the golden boys and enthusiastically participated in junior high sports with high expectations for varsity sports. He had a quiet way of making you feel important and capable. A man of few words, he nevertheless, was able to draw out of us our very best.
We always said about Coach Odette that we would run through a wall for him if asked. He was never your pal, but you knew he cared for you as a mentor. He was firm but fair, and we knew if he got after us a little bit, it was because of some lacking on our part. I never felt unfairly treated after a Coach Odette straightening out.
He was not a man of tirades. In basketball, when things weren’t going as they should, he would usually disgustedly bang the back of the bench with his wing tip shoes. You knew you needed to give more effort, more effective effort, if you heard the shoe on the bench during a game.
The most memorable tirade, maybe the only tirade (I hate to say tirade because that gives a sense of an out of control tongue lashing or something, because he never did that). The most memorable and needed and effective cussing out I was ever a part of was after a football game against the San Juan Broncos way back in 1969.
It was a season where we were rolling along pretty well. I was a sophomore and rarely, if ever, played varsity. My job was to stand on the sidelines with my helmet off so the opposing fans would see us and say, “Boy, those Monticello boys are handsome fellers!”
Anyway, back to the game, which found us clicking like a well oiled machine and up 20-0 by halftime and 27-7 at one point late in the game.
At halftime, we were practically giddy at the shellacking we were handing the Broncos. But our undoing, our comeuppance perhaps, was on its way in the form of a fullback pass back to the quarterback that the Broncos had secretly been practicing all week.
The Bronco full back was Jeff Black and the quarterback was current Bronco head football coach Monty Lee. Standing on the sidelines, hopelessly watching the Broncos march their way back, touchdown after agonizing touchdown, I remember watching that last pass, from Black, when he stopped his sweep and launched a pass way across the field back to the quarterback, who had just handed him the ball.
I remember looking ahead of the pass towards the endzone where Monty Lee raced amazingly unattended for what seemed like the 30th time in the second half, and feeling gloom, despair and despondency when I knew the Broncos comeback was complete as they went up 28-27, dropping us in a most demoralizing loss.
Often times, a loss like that can really put the hurt on a team, but Coach Odette was having none of that. As we climbed on the bus, (we rode the bus to Blanding in our football uniforms in those days) for the 20 mile trip home, we weren’t silent, but were whining, moaning, and complaining about the loss, blaming the refs, the home field advantage, anything but ourselves,
Coach Odette climbed on, looming at the front like an enraged grizzly bear, and punched the top of the bus with his hand so hard I thought lightning had struck the bus.
That shocked us back to reality and like Moses returning with the 10 Commandments and finding the children of Israel in turmoil, Coach Odette brought us back. He wonderfully stood at the front of the bus, and proceeded to express his huge displeasure at what had happened in a way that got to the hearts of all of us.
He didn’t ream us out so much as very vividly, and for him uncharacteristically, verbally tongue lashed us about what an awful way to lose it was and how we had let go of a game we had in hand.
I think he shouted, yes shouted, at the top of his lungs, something he seldom did, something like “I don’t want to EVER... EVER... EVER lose a game like this again!”
And we didn’t. That team went on to go undefeated the rest of the season, conquering the invincible Beaver Beavers in the championship game, 7-6, a game we probably had no business winning, to win Monticello’s first ever state football championship.
That tongue lashing, one that was not directed at anyone personally, but to us as a team, turned our season around in one glorious inspiring moment, on a bus sitting on the track at Bronco field.
Well, I could go on forever about Coach Ray Odette, a giant of a man, a man of men, a coach who taught us to give our all for the team, that team was more important than individual, that a coach was a role model of exactly how a man should live his life, that a man could have few but influential words.
But I won’t, at least today. I just wanted to say goodbye... and thanks, to Coach Odette and Rose, his venerable wife of over 50 years. We will miss him, a man we all respect, honor, revere, and still try to emulate today.