Former Westport teacher and coach Tom Beauvais will be inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame March 18.
How do you create an unbeatable machine?
“There’s no secret,” explains former Westport girls basketball coach Tom Beauvais. “The thing that was important to me was developing athletes and developing kids. You have to teach self-esteem so that they feel good about themselves and you have to make sure they’re responsible: that they know what their roles are on their team and are responsible to their teammates, and everybody has a responsibility.”
Beauvais, 66, will be inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame on March 18 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
The statistics and records Westport’s girls hoops teams compiled during Beauvais’ 1986-2002 tenure are eye-popping: 162 straight wins in league play, 15 consecutive league titles, 13 sectional titles between 1988 and 2002.
Beauvais coached in two state championship games and set a Section VII record for the most wins by a girls varsity hoops coach. Eight girls who played for Beauvais scored more than 1,000 points, 10 played college basketball and three earned Division I scholarships.
Beauvais is also widely credited with helping athletes from throughout the region go on to play college basketball through his role in creating a trailblazing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) club.
Beauvais said he built Westport’s program by focusing on the basics – strength, conditioning and fundamental basketball skills – and by creating a role on the team for each child and making sure they all felt they were a part of the team.
“Some players played more, some players played less, but every child would play – that was very important,” said Beauvais. “We never substituted anyone because of offense. We substituted people who were not participating in the team defense.
“We kept everything simple,” he recalled. “The offenses were simple offenses; the defense was man-to-man, with a lot of help.”
Despite his emphasis on simplicity and fundamentals, Beauvais also wasn’t averse to using higher-level strategies.
“Our presses were man-to-man, and we used a lot of zone concepts in man-to-man pressing, but any good team is able to handle pressure, so we had to use different pressure points. We would pressure different points on the court in different situations.”
Regarding the launch of his pioneering AAU team in the mid-’90s, Beauvais said, “One of our players wanted to excel and go on to play college basketball. That player had to drive all the way to Albany [to play AAU ball], and we just said, ‘It’s time that we get an AAU program for our kids.’
“We just felt that the kids needed this opportunity. We started that program and had over 20 kids from it – from all over – go on to play college basketball. One, Missy West, played for Duke University, the national champion.
“We would play from March to mid-July, and college coaches would follow our program from gym to gym. At times these coaches were cheering our kids on. That’s one of those things you look back on and say, wow. Isn’t that great for our kids?”
It’s a common belief that single-minded, year-round focus on basketball is the surest route to success on the hardwood, but Beauvais disagrees.
“I was the school’s athletic director and I wanted our kids to play all sports,” he said. “They played softball; they played soccer. We tried to develop athletes and tie all the sports together so that we had a great physical education program and a great year-round athletic program – and we did. The number of championships that small school won is outstanding.”
Looking back and considering the highlights, Beauvais opts to focus on the present rather than the memories.
“To be honest with you, the biggest thing is seeing these players go on in life and be successful and give back something to their communities – because of what it meant to them to be an athlete – and a great number of them all throughout the country that are doing this,” he said.
After giving so much to the young people of his own community, Beauvais, who still lives in Westport, says he’s now focused on spending as much time with his family as he can. When he spoke with the Valley News, he had just returned from coaching his grandson’s hockey practice in Saranac Lake.
“Right now I’m not coaching any basketball at all,” he said. “I’m just spending a lot of time with my grandkids – and enjoying it immensely.”