It has often been said that the roles of teacher and coach tend to align, very closely.
It certainly helps to explain the work of thousands of individuals within the educational system, over the years, folks who draw equal pleasure in their ability to work with the youth of our country in the classroom or on the court.
Just not Denis Gauthier, the long-time Lasalle Secondary basketball mainstay who was honoured in 2017 with the Male School Sport Coach Award at the Coaches Association of Ontario gala.
"I love coaching, and then teaching, second," Gauthier said with a laugh. "And I'm not knocking the teaching. I love my teaching, but that's how much I love coaching."
A born and raised Sudburian, the 53 year-old father of one daughter (Vanessa) comes by his love of sport quite naturally. "My dad was interested in sports, even if he wasn't all that active in sports," said Gauthier. "He loved his Expos, his Canadiens, so of course, I got brainwashed. I always joked around with him about that."
"We would go to Montreal, pretty much every summer, and now I go to a lot of ball games. It just rubbed off on me."
A better than average athlete who attracted a few enquiries at the post-secondary level - "I was in much better shape back then", deadpanned Gauthier - the youngest of two boys in the family benefitted from a family sport environment that opened the doors of opportunity, in a relatively relaxed fashion.
"Other than baseball, my dad would never register me into anything unless I came to ask to play," he said. "Then he would always encourage me. He was encouraging, but was one of the quietest parents - just very supportive."
That support may have waned, just a tad, when Gauthier opted to leave the Commerce program at Laurentian University, after just one year, crossing over to Physical Education with an eye on teaching. "He was worried that there were no jobs - and honestly, there weren't a lot of teaching jobs."
"I just lucked out. In my very first year of teaching, I taught with my dad. That was special."
Above and beyond that, Gauthier stressed the thankfulness that he and his wife, Rebecca (also a teacher) have enjoyed, blessed with job stability since the moment they graduated from university. Not only did full-time employment come quickly, it would come at the location that Gauthier most favoured.
"I love where I am," said the man who has spent some thirty years in the field, a career that features stops at only two schools: Lasalle Secondary and Northeastern Secondary School (changed to Northeastern Elementary in 2006). "I really wanted to be at Lasalle, but it also just happened to be the job that was open at the time."
His complete immersion into the world of all that is basketball, 24/7, would begin almost immediately. Surrounded by the likes of Len Thompson, Jim Hann and Mitch Lalonde, Gauthier could absorb knowledge of the sport, almost by osmosis.
"I had a lot to learn," he said with a smile. "I was only a year or two older than the players I first coached (at Macdonald-Cartier, while he was attending LU), and I didn't know what I know today. It was a matter of learning how to take what you see and then apply it, teaching the kids to get to that level."
"I evolved in that area, big time."
On the court, the game would change. Gauthier would realize that his own personal vision of how basketball should be played needed to be blended with the talent on hand. "You have to assess what you have," he stated. "Yes, you have a certain philosophy. I love the run and gun, I love transition play, and I like tough defense."
"To me, they marry. But you look at last year's team; we had all of those speedy guards, so we pressed. If I had slower players, we would have done something else."
If there is a singular sport that had defined the orange and black of the Lancers over the course of the past 20-25 years, basketball is it. Few can argue with that fact. Gauthier maintains that the run of success is an equal mix of contributions from those who created a venue where passion for the sport was embodied, folks who then welcomed the athletes capable of transforming that passion into victory.
"I have always believed that your program is as good as your leader," he said. "Players will follow a leader. Being at Lasalle, everyone expects you to win - but that takes a lot of work, a lot of work that the kids put in. I give the kids a ton of credit."
Yet the framework of a developmental program that few in the city could rival was equally critical. "At Lasalle, we would always talk about how a kid arrived, in grade nine, and where they would be in 12 or 13, where they might fit in the program," said Gauthier. "Sometimes we were right, sometimes you're wrong."
"But that was part of the fun: I would love when kids would prove us wrong."
"Us" typically comprised Len Thompson ("one of my mentors - he taught me a lot about how to get kids to fall in love with the sport - he was just so passionate about basketball"), Jim Hann ("a phenomenal transition coach - you think Jim is a tough guy, but he's soft, just a good hearted soul who loves his players, would go through a wall for them") and Mitch Lalonde ("my best friend - always at my house - he really was "Uncle Mitch" to Vanessa").
Maintaining that kind of tradition is a responsibility that Gauthier holds near and dear. His is a tradition that evokes memories of an upstart team at Northeastern that could challenge the Confederation powerhouse that included future LU star Jimmy Jefferson. It's a tradition that recalls the raucous Northeastern gymnasium, jam-packed and coloured in black, red and white, from ceiling to floor.
And it's a tradition that includes a boatload of Lasalle Lancer teams that have led to lifelong friendships.
"I would like to think that people recognize how much we give to the kids, the respect we have for the sport, how we tried to grow the sport" - many of the attributes of a great coach - and a very special teacher, as well.