Growing up, many people influence who you become and ultimately where you end up. One such person was my hockey coach, William “Bill” Chamberlin, who passed away on March 10.
I met him in the early ’70s when my parents brought me to the first meeting of the newly formed Front Park Hockey Association. He had long hair and a beard that made him look more like a rock star than a hockey coach.
The first thing Bill asked me was, “Kid, have you ever skated?” Up to that point, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I had never even laced up a pair of skates. I just knew I wanted to play hockey.
My answer was a quiet “no.”
“No problem. You are going to be my project for this year” was all he said as he walked away.
I did become his project. Quickly I was at the rink nearly every night and every weekend. Bill began to teach me his work ethic and belief that “every kid on the West Side who wants to play hockey will play hockey.” We sold raffle tickets, washed cars, asked for donations in coffee cans and asked every business we could for help. We searched Goodwill and the Salvation Army for used skates and equipment to give to the kids who couldn’t afford them.
Bill did what he said: Every kid who wanted to play, whether he had the money or not, got the opportunity to play. He never gave up on anyone, and was the most “can do” person I’ve ever met.
As the first season began, Bill and his wife, Linda, had groups of kids, including me, sleep at their house every Friday night in order to be at the rink as early as possible the next morning. We found ourselves up at 5 a.m. and soon at the rink shoveling snow off the ice in preparation for our games.
Before I knew it, I was part of my first team with Bill as my coach. He worked with me and the other kids like we were his own children. I went to the rink, fell down, got up and, with his encouragement, I learned to skate. We didn’t care that it was 2 degrees outside, that the rink was missing large sections of boards and that if the puck was shot too high, it ended up in a pile of snow. We were playing the game we loved.
Bill taught all of us that it wasn’t winning that was important, it was just playing the game. He taught me to help everyone I could, and to always give someone a second chance.
I played for Bill for eight years. He gave me my first job, sharpening skates. I went along with him delivering Thanksgiving baskets to those less fortunate. His message was always the same: Life is about helping everyone you can.
As the organization grew, Bill had more and more teams, and more and more players he influenced. He put thousands of miles on his old yellow van as he drove around picking us up for practices late at night or early in the morning. He cared about all of us.
To many of his players, Bill was a second father. Most of the kids he coached are now in their 50s and many have become police officers, firefighters and teachers, all using the lessons he taught us.
Bill’s influence is present in everything I have done in my adult life. I have used what he taught me for all the students I have taught and the hockey teams I have coached. Because of his influence, I, too, have influenced hundreds of children.
“It’s about the kids and nothing else” was what he taught me.
There will never be another coach like Bill Chamberlin.