WOONSOCKET — George Coderre likes to sit on the bench during Woonsocket High basketball games and let his players, usually his point guard, run the offense, calling out which plays to run against a specific defense.
“Every coach has their own style,” Coderre was saying Wednesday afternoon. “I am extremely vocal and demonstrative during practice. In games, I try to sit down and just let the players feed off of each other. I do make some noise during games but I try to let the kids recognize defenses and call their own plays.”
Coderre enjoys talking about teamwork, a quality each of his squads have demonstrated over the past five years, a time frame in which Woonsocket has won state titles in both Division I and II and qualified for the playoffs every season.
“I think teamwork is something that is coachable,” Coderre admitted. “I find that if the kids honestly believe that the system is there for all of them, they will definitely commit to playing as a team.”
Teamwork begins with the point guard. Coderre has a good one in senior Michelle Brayboy, who succeeded Brooke Coderre in the job after the Villa Novans won the 2010 Division I state championship.
“The point guard is extremely critical,” Coderre said. “The kids want to play together but if you don’t have somebody who gets everyone involved, then it is difficult to sustain continuity. The point guard is an extension of the coach on the floor. Michelle could easily have started at point guard as a freshman and sophomore (with Brooke Coderre moving to shooting guard). We saw her as a great fit coming off the bench. She could be more of a gambler on defense because she didn’t have to worry about fouling out.”
Brayboy is one of four seniors on this year’s Woonsocket team who played on the state championship teams of 2009-10. Senior forward Kailey Fugere, this year’s leading scorer, is another. Allyson Cartier and Caitlyn Marcoux round out the senior leaders on the team.
“Right now,” Coderre said, “we have a situation where four of our seniors have played on successful teams. The younger kids have played on middle school teams that did not win a game. These kids have never tasted success but they want to be relevant. We’re trying to piece them into this team so that they can all be contributors by the end of the season. The seniors are on board with this and are patient enough to let the younger players have their chance.”
Coderre, a 1971 graduate of Sacred Heart High in Central Falls, knows a few things about teamwork and leadership, two qualities that seem to define his squads.
“You can have a whole team full of leaders,” he said, “as long as everyone leads with their own strengths. Some leaders don’t even have to say a word. Kofo Olowookere was that way on our state championship teams. She never said a word but would lead us in the team prayer before the game. Brooke would pull somebody aside and make corrections, in private. Michelle (Brayboy) is very vocal. Kailey (Fugere) never says a word either. She leads by her example.”
Woonsocket figures to contend for the state title again this winter.
“We’re not a team that is going to dominate,” Coderre admitted. “We have to do all the little things well and play together as a team.”
Coderre, now 59 years old, continues to work on the Central Falls Fire Department. He understands the role teamwork plays in his job.
“Teamwork at the scene of a fire is huge,” he said. “If firefighters don’t have teamwork, then there would be a tremendous amount of duplication of duties. Firefighters have specific jobs to do in a fire. The one thing we all know is that nothing goes the way it is supposed to go during a crisis. We have to rely on our partners when things go wrong. We’re very understaffed right now and usually take just a skeleton crew to a fire scene. Everyone works together and makes adjustments so that the job gets done. We absolutely have to work together as a team to do our job right.”
At home, Coderre and his wife Donna are completing the job of raising five children. Donna is the Principal at Governor Pothier Elementary School in Woonsocket.
“Our kids are Mary, Matt, Brett, Brooke and Mike,” Coderre said. “I used to work two jobs when the kids were younger. Donna stayed at home in those days. She went back to school and became an elementary school special education teacher. Then she got her Master’s Degree in Administration and moved up to Principal. Donna juggles a lot of roles in her life and is a great team player. She’s involved with so many community affairs, and always has time for our children and their friends.”
Brooke Coderre, the youngest child, is now a sophomore guard at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire whose playing time this season has been limited by a lingering foot injury.
“Brooke averaged 3.96 in school during her freshman year,” her father said, speaking of his daughter’s most important stat – scholastic average.
The family will get together for Christmas again this year, rallying around the tree to exchange gifts and tell old stories. Mary and Matt are grown up now. Brett, who played on the 2008 state runnerup boys basketball team at Woonsocket, is finishing up college. Adopted son Mike Akinrola, another member of that 2008 squad, is completing his senior year at Rhode Island College, starring on the basketball team and planning to enter law enforcement after he graduates.
“Teamwork is a big part of family life, too,” George Coderre said, sounding more like a head coach than the father of his favorite team.