On, off wrestling mat, coach Heroux had larger-than-life impactTrue-blue Lion respected, admired by generations of BAHS student-athletes
Belfast — The man who went by many names — Bobby, Frenchie, Ted, Dad, Hero, Coach and Papa — was larger than life and was, to many, appropriately perhaps, a true Lion in nature and Lion at heart.
And now the beloved and respected former Belfast Area High School wrestling coach is gone.
Theodore "Ted" Robert Heroux died on Saturday, April 8 at Waldo County General Hospital after a long history of heart disease. He was 74.
Heroux was admired by family, friends and acquaintances. He was a no-nonsense, straight-talking man who told it like it was. He was Belfast and Belfast was him. He was a true-blue Lion, through and through.
“He’s been a staple to that community for a long time," said Terry Kenniston, BAHS assistant principal and athletic director.
While Heroux was respected for many things, the one thing generations of Belfast Area High School student-athletes will remember him for will be for helping guide them — and their teams — to tremendous success on the wrestling mat.
While Heroux, a 1961 graduate of Crosby High School in Belfast, was a football, basketball, baseball and track-and-field athlete — and even a Golden Gloves boxing champion — it was as a wrestling coach, for 45 years, where the big man with the gregarious laugh and infectious smile made a lasting impression.
In the fall of 1965, he began his teaching and coaching career in his hometown. He taught physical education and industrial arts at Crosby School and BAHS 27 years before retiring in the early 1990s.
When he attended the University of North Dakota after high school, Heroux's discovered his passion for wrestling.
He also was a longtime BAHS football coach, but it was in wrestling where Heroux's name became synonymous with that gritty, tough mat sport. He took over the Lion wrestling program from Harold Violette in 1967.
"When we started out we only had nine kids," Heroux said in a 2012 interview. "We only filled, I think, eight weight classes and it went like that for three or four years before we really started having success. And then just about every year we'd have 25-30 kids come out."
The program, under Heroux's guidance, slowly turned into a juggernaut, annually competing for conference, regional and state championships.
”I can remember Teddy being the head football coach when we [Rockland] played against Belfast in high school," said Kenniston, a RDHS graduate. "So my recollection with Teddy goes back a long time. He’s been involved in Belfast athletics since the time he returned from college through to about five years ago. He always had a a story and a tale to tell, most of them not repeatable.”
Kenniston said Heroux "was one of those guys that was somehow always connected to everything that was going on. At football games, from the time I got there 14 years ago, Teddy was sitting [just behind] the end zone for all those games.”
Kenniston said Heroux had "a great sense of humor."
Heroux was, in the most respectful way, a good old Maine boy.
“He was always fun to be around," Kenniston said. "He’d say, ‘Why are those kids wearing blue and white? Our school colors are blue and gold.’ Just to try to wind people up. I’d show up with [my wife] Kim and he’d say, ‘That’s not the girl I saw you with the other night down to Rollie’s.’ ”
Heroux loved the competition in his younger days and the competition for his team and wrestlers as a coach.
Heroux compiled an eye-opening 602-168-3 record (.782 winning percentage) as a wrestling coach at Belfast over four-and-a-half decades.
When people would comment on that accomplishment, he would tell them it was his “wrestlers who had the record not him” and “if you coach long enough you will get the numbers."
And boy did Heroux get impressive numbers. In wrestling, he helped the Lions earn eight state team championships, six state runner-up finishes, 11 regional championships and 13 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference titles.
Belfast won state Class B titles most recently in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009, while also winning back-to-back state crowns in 1994-95 and 1986-1987. The Lions also won back-to-back championships in 1969-1970 when they still toiled in the Class A ranks.
Heroux was the league's top coach five times and three-time Maine coach of the year. In 1999, he was inducted into the Maine Amateur Wresting Alliance Hall of Fame and, in 2012, the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame, being one of only three Maine coaches at that time to receive the honor (Ted Reese and Wally LaFountaine were the others).
Heroux took pride in helping his wrestlers on and off the mat; of these wrestlers many called the the coach's household “home." He fully understood what he taught the young men went well beyond how they fared on the mat. He was just as concerned with how those youngsters fared later in life — off the mat.
”He was a very dedicated Belfast coach," said Keith Holland, who has coached many sports at Belfast, including wrestling, football and tennis. "And he took a lot of kids and gave them some direction and gave them a chance to be competitive in high school and he built a legacy with wrestling. He brought guys at Belfast into athletics via wrestling that might not have participated in other sports. Belfast is a wrestling community and it started with him. He’s had good people through the years to continue it, but there’s always a special place for Teddy.”
“He was a master of knowing how to move kids to the right weight classes and ‘what’s my best advantage if I move Johnny here against this kid,' " said Kenniston. "He always had that stuff mapped out.”
Heroux collapsed at a home wrestling meet in January of 2011 with a heart-related issue and missed much of the rest of that season and returned in 2012 for his 45th — and final — stint with the team.
That incident impacted all who were in the gymnasium that day and was a significant reason Heroux decided to give up coaching.
At the time, Heroux said he understood his health was "up and down" and it was time to focus on his family and other passions.
One of those was his lifelong hobby of rebuilding and restoring automobiles.
"I made the decision and I think it's going to work out very well for me and for the wrestling program," he said of his retirement from coaching in 2012. "I can't do what I used to do, get on the mat and thrash and wrestle with every kid on the mat. They need some young blood in there."
Over his tenure, Heroux coached 71 individual state champions and 60 individual state runners-up. Two of those state champions were his grandsons, Kornealius Wood and Kote Aldus.
"You go through that with your family and your heart's out there with them," Heroux said. "I mean, who gets the opportunity to coach their grandsons? They had all the tools and all the backgrounds, and they didn't falter."
Aldus is one of three New England champions Heroux coached, along with Dennis Sprague and Brent Waterman, the latter of whom was crowned earlier in his final season of coaching.
"In all my years of coaching and participating in athletics, I've never met another person quite as unique as coach Heroux," said Rick Kelley, current Lion varsity wrestling coach and senior captain on 1983 BAHS team led by Heroux. "The following are a few of the traits that made him so special to so many former athletes and community members.
"Great father, even greater grandfather, surrogate father for some, loyal friend and colleague for others, extraordinary coach and teacher, unwavering passion for the sport of wrestling, a man of principal, infectious smile and laughter, quick-witted, old school-value set, and, perhaps, most importantly, a grounded individual who always stayed true to his roots and was proud to do so. A true coaching legend who was always so proud of the boys who wore the royal blue and gold for him ... just as we were all so proud to wrestle for him — my son Peter and I included."
In the end, the mat was the canvas, the venue, if you will, that allowed Heroux, a coaching "artist," to paint a better current and future for each Lion team member. He was an important cog in helping each young athlete reach his potential, find success in the present and a healthy, productive life down the road.
That is a legacy Heroux surely would appreciate.
“He’ll be missed," Kenniston said. "You look down at the end zone this fall and the chair he always sat in and the spot he always sat in will be vacant.”
Coach Heroux may be gone, but he certainly will never be forgotten.
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