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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
Another Gauthier garners football Hall of Fame recognition
by Randy Pascal

Within Sudbury football circles, the reputation of Jean Gauthier as one of the very best high school coaches to come through these parts has long been well established.

In other parts of the province, it was his play as an offensive lineman for which he is far more well-known.

In fact, the Cornwall native and long-time coach of a very successful Ecole Secondaire Rayside Barons junior football program found out just weeks ago that he will be enshrined in the Ottawa Gee Gees Football Hall of Fame this spring, joining storied St Charles coach and former linebacker Mike Fabiilli, among others.

Of course, upon doing just a little bit of research, this honour hardly comes as a surprise. An league all-star during the majority of his five year career with the Gee Gees, part of some highly successful teams in the late 1960's and early 1970's, Gauthier was selected in the first round of the CFL draft by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, later inducted into the Cornwall Sports Hall of Fame.

Always blessed with well above average size, Gauthier came by his love of sports quite naturally. “Prior to grade nine, I was playing hockey – that was my main sport at the time,” said the Sudbury resident and father of three, who still presents an imposing and impressive physical presence as he nears his 70th birthday.

“In grade nine, my first year at Collège Classique de Cornwall, they were starting a junior football program,” he recalled. “I guess the stars were lined up for me. I had played sandlot football, at quarterback. I was a big kid and I could throw the ball way downfield. I got to school that first day and the coach saw me and told me that he wanted me on the football field that night.”

Four years later, he would garner the attention of the football staff at the University of Ottawa, as former Roughrider and then Gee Gees head coach Matt Anthony recruited the young lineman. “I wanted to be in really good shape for my first year in Ottawa and I lost a lot of weight, down to 230,” said Gauthier.

“When Matt Anthony saw me at training camp, he said to me, “if I wanted a linebacker, I would have recruited one”. He was really disappointed that I had lost close to 40 pounds. It was a difficult season, that first year. I played, but did not start.”

Back to his high school size by year two, Gauthier quickly became an integral cog in the wheel of a rapidly developing powerhouse, the Gee Gees remaining undefeated until their College Bowl battle with the McMaster Marauders. The make-up of the line, be it offensive or defensive, was vastly different in those days than what we envision today.

“I got back to my original weight, 270, 275 – I never hit 280 – but we were only three guys on the team that were in that “large” bracket,” he stated. “Today, they would probably put me at guard, not tackle. Tackles now are 300 pounds or bigger.”

Though his university years were filled with countless highlights, the worst defeat of his football career would come in his third year Panda Bowl, the annual intercity slugfest with the Carleton Ravens, which the Gee Gees had dominated for quite some time.

“We were ahead by 28 points at half-time,” Gauthier recollected. “We lost that game and I was devastated. The “Panda” was a mainstay at the University of Ottawa. It was just a teddy bear, but it was covered in beer and smelled awful. At least now they have a trophy.”

The ninth player taken in the 1971 CFL draft, Gauthier would quickly realize that the risk of attending training camp, at the expense of summer employment, was simply too great, especially for a young man pursuing a career in teaching, who was soon contemplating marriage with Margaret, his wife now of several decades.

“The Sudbury Board (of Education) showed up in January or February, the french and english were together then, and one of the french high schools was starting a football program,” he said. “They asked if I was willing to coach. I wasn't going to say no if I wanted a job.” With his wife-to-be also securing a job with the local board, the couple would move to Sudbury in 1974, as Gauthier kicked off a 16 year career as coach of the fledgling Rayside Barons.

“I showed up that first year and my principal told me, “all of the football equipment is in that room, and it's up to you to put it together”. He left me like that, nobody to help, boxes and boxes of football equipment, and not the best equipment, either. I was 24 years old and wondering what I had gotten into.”

Year one produced a grand total of zero wins. Year two bumped that total by one. “I though there must be something I should be doing to kick start the program,” said Gauthier. “In year three, I took every grade nine player that tried out for the team. We were going to lose anyways, I might as well let these kids get better.”

Get better they did, as the Barons captured the SDSSAA Cup, the junior football league title, for three straight years, from 1981 to 1983. It was an era that Gauthier will never forget. “Kids were coming to Rayside from Levack, Dowling, Blezard Valley, and they had to hitchhike back home,” he said.

“At the corner of Highway 144 and rue Principale, every night from September to November, there would be a group of 15-20 kids hitchhiking. Within half an hour, they were all gone, because people knew that they were all football players from Rayside, trying to get back home. Every night, when I drove by that corner, they were all gone.”

Over the years, Gauthier would develop countless wonderful relationships, coaching alongside André Boudria (an assistant coach who stepped in with absolutely no football knowledge whatsoever), developing the likes of future university players Paul Gauthier and Guy Labine.

Yet it is the name of coach Gauthier that so many recall in this area, and of the player, Jean Gauthier, that has been feted, not only in his hometown of Cornwall, by now by the Ottawa Gee Gees football fraternity. Deservingly so.

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