Former principal Raymond Chamberland applauds the marching band after they gave a surprise performance for him during a rededication of the gym in his name
Former principal Raymond Chamberland applauds the marching band after they gave a surprise performance for him during a rededication of the gym in his name at Undermountian Elementary School in Sheffield. (Stephanie Zollshan | Berkshire Eagle Staff)

SHEFFIELD -- Back when Raymond Chamberland coached basketball for Mount Everett Regional High School, he would carry a towel while stalking the sidelines during games.

It was back in the 1960s, and Chamberland was a fiery basketball coach. He used to keep a towel handy, which he would stuff in his mouth so he couldn't yell at referees.

"A lot of people don't know why I carried the towel but it was to keep me from getting kicked out," Chamberland said with a laugh.

Chamberland was back on the gym sidelines this week, but this time he had no complaints -- only words of appreciation.

The Southern Berkshire Regional School District on Tuesday re-dedicated the Undermountain Elementary School gym to Chamberland, who also served as principal for a decade-long run from 1977 to 1987. The auditorium currently serves the elementary school, but back when Chamberland was principal it served the high school.

The school also unveiled a new high school fitness center paid for by a $10,000 donation from Bill and Deborah Ryan, owners of Black Thumb Farms in Sheffield, and two new elementary school playgrounds.

Tuesday's events all reflected a priority for Superintendent David Hastings: Having smart, happy, healthy kids. The school's physical education teachers have expressed enthusiasm for the new fitness center, which they say can go beyond traditional sports and offer other opportunities to exercise.

The Raymond Chamberland Gymnasium originally was dedicated in the early 1990s, but a special re-dedication ceremony was held on Tuesday to honor the former coach, who is 89 and fighting metastatic cancer.

The proudest days of Chamberland's life, he said, were when he married his wife and the day the gym was dedicated to him.

"Today was overwhelming and it was well beyond anything I expected it to be," Chamberland said, "and I had no idea about the magnitude of the thing."

Chamberland thanked a large assembly that included all students from Undermountain Elementary School -- and they thanked him back.

"We have a wonderful culture, but we didn't get here overnight," said Superintendent Hastings, who attributed the school's family-oriented culture to Chamberland.

Prior to becoming principal, Chamberland served as an assistant principal and athletic director after starting his career at the school in 1957 as a football coach. He also co-founded the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Chamberland couldn't help but smile on Tuesday. The 70-person Mount Everett Eagle's band played the school's fight song to him. The drumline followed and also played music to him. There were plenty of hugs and handshakes.

Last year, Chamberland donated trophies he had acquired throughout a distinguished career to the district.

District employees built a trophy cabinet outside of the gym entrance to store the trophies. They included recognition from community and statewide organizations.

"It wasn't just something we ordered from Home Depot, but this was built from the love and sweat of people from this school," Hastings said.

Current Principal Glen Devoti recalled that 20 years ago, when he first took the post at the school, he received an e-mail from Chamberland introducing himself. He'd already been retired for multiple years, but he offered a helping hand -- the school was special, Chamberland told him, because it was a family.

During the re-dedication ceremony, Devoti said he spoke with one of Chamberland's former student, Ernie Louison, who is now 61 and living in Florida. He said after his father died, Chamberland became like a second father to him.

"That's an idea that continues to be embraced by this school today," Devoti said.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com.
or (413)-496-6240.
On Twitter: @JSakata