Good Morning to all. Can you believe that as you read this we are one day into winter, but the days will begin to get longer each and ever day, and we’re just three days away from Christmas. Where does the time go?
Things on the local sports' scene are progressing with practices scheduled and games to hopefully begin in January. I'm not sure if anyone truly knows what January and 2021 will bring but somehow, someway kids have got to get back in full swing with sports — they and we need to be playing from a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social point of view.
It seems as though I have been regularly reporting on local sports' enthusiasts and friends who have passed on and today is no exception. Eddie Coulombe recently passed away after a very courageous battle with cancer. Eddie and I, along with many of you, go way back to the days of broomball and softball as we played against each other in those very popular and competitive men's leagues. He was also a long-time participant in the Berlin Bowling leagues. But more important, Eddie was a great guy, friendly and always upbeat even during his struggles with his health. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends at this time.
In the fall of 1963 I first met Richard "Ben" Napert, we were freshmen at Berlin High School. We became more friendly through, yes sports, first baseball that same freshman year, and then later in football. For three years we labored on the BHS junior varsity baseball team, played some football and spent some time "hanging out" with the likes of Jerry Landry, Mitch Belanger, Moe Fortier and others. Billy Dussault, Lionel Dion, Bob Fournier, Dick McCready, Peter Larin, Ron Villeneuve and others were part of that group too. Many of us continued to be friends to the present.
I was the right defensive end and Ben was a 300-pound right defensive tackle for the early part of the 1966 season, so needless to say, lots of offensive opponents didn't run too many plays to that side of the line (mainly because of Ben, not necessarily me!). Ben was also a very good extra point and field goal kicker, which along with his line play, gave him some opportunities to play beyond high school, mainly with the Rochester Tri-City Chargers. As I recall, three other former BHS players, Butch Munce, Larry Mosiek and Lionel Dion played down there, too.
After college, military service, college again, I returned to the Berlin area and got involved with men's softball and broomball, and played with and against Ben. He had a pretty good bat to go along with his slick first baseman defensive skills. Ben was always a go-getter, as evidenced by his involvement in the organizing and running of those various local sports' leagues, and with AA. At one point in time he did some Enman family history research for me and was during the time my two older sons were playing ball at St. Joseph's College. The next thing you know he and I are headed to Standish to catch a baseball game, with a post-game trip to Pat's Pizza to rehash the game and chow down.
Later, Ben got heavily involved in the Berlin Historical Society and became a board member there. That became his "baby" and just in the information he furnished me regarding family and local sporting history, made me realize he was very good and dedicated in his work at the society. Some of the "human interest" stories I wrote came from suggestions and encouragement from Ben.
About two months ago we had a great, long and very emotional phone conversation about sports, life, our friendship and the struggles life had for both of us. I wonder if he knew of his limited time then, based on the emotions we shared, although he never said a word to me about his health.
During that call and before I had "challenged" him to let me do a story on his life, struggles and victories but he wouldn't let me do it. I should have anyway, while he was alive, but this will have to do, albeit posthumously.
Butch Munce, a pretty decent football player himself, and skier at BHS played football for a brief time with Ben, both in high school and with the Chargers, thought that "Ben was a great guy, who definitely took up a lot of space on the line, whether it be offensive or defensive. I got to go against him in practice, me as a 160-pound lineman, he as a 300-plus lineman. He was the only high school player I knew or heard of who could consistently kick the ball into the end zone on the kickoff. I did get to play with him for a short time for the Chargers in 1970 and we would travel together for practices during the week and games on Saturday."
Peter Larin, Class of '67, teammate and friend of both Ben and myself, remembers Ben this way, "If you were a close friend of Ben's he would go out of his way and go to extremes, if he could manage it, to do you a favor and help you out. That's who he was. He also had a memory like no other, and could remember people, names, places and things that the rest of us had long forgotten. And last but not least, as an opponent on a football field, do not get in front of him when he was charging down the field, especially on kickoff coverage, it could and did get ugly for that opponent. Ben was a good friend and I will miss him."
One time, Pete and I took Ben to a Concord hospital and our time with him was special and precious with lots of good memories, stories and laughs shared that day for sure.
As fellow Historical Society member Walter Nadeau shared, "Richard overcame many setbacks in his life, but he felt his last 10 years were his best and told a relative that he was proud to say that he would die a sober man, which was a lifetime struggle for him. Ben was a smart guy with a big heart and easily became friends with anyone he met. He was a mentor to many people at AA meetings and would rejoice for those who changed their lives and be saddened for those who could not. He had compassion because he experienced it all." Well said, Walter and those of us who knew Ben best, certainly would share those same sentiments.
Richard "Ben" Napert was born Dec. 10, 1949 and died Dec. 10th, 2020. RIP my friend!