Claude Beudert, who is in his 40th year of coaching (though he’s been retired since June as a teacher), said during a conversation the other day at The Star that he’s thankful that the first wave of athletes he oversaw still say hello to him.
“I wasn’t as crazy as Bobby Knight, but I’m embarrassed when I think of how I was as a coach when I first came here. . . . I think the light may have come on when I became a parent. When people have a kid things change — at least that’s what it did for me. You begin to look at the big picture then.”
“Of course, officials can drive you crazy. That’s probably why I stuck with golf and tennis.”
“They didn’t fear me,” he added, when the subject of his early coaching years came up again in the conversation. “They just thought I was nuts.”
Born in Milwaukee and reared largely in Evansville, Ind., Beudert, who has to be one of the most successful high school golf coaches Islandwide — his East Hampton High School teams have won almost a score of league titles, dating to 1993, as well as county and Long Island championships — moved about as a youngster, winding up on Long Island, where his parents, both from Floral Park, had begun.
He rather welcomed the changes of scene, he said, with a smile, given the opportunities they provided to start off with a clean slate.
He was a three-sport (soccer, basketball, and golf) athlete at Cold Spring Harbor High School, and later played number-one on the golf team at Gettysburg College, where Jim Stewart, East Hampton’s longtime wrestling coach, was two years behind him.
“When I first came out here, in 1977 — Chris Sarlo hired me — I coached girls tennis with John Goodman, girls basketball with Ellen Cooper, and softball. Our 1980 tennis team won the county championship, the first girls team from here to win a county championship. John was a terrific tactician — doubles was his strength. I was the spiritual leader.”
That team, said Beudert, definitely deserved to be in the high school’s Hall of Fame.
On the subject, he said he thought two of his former golfers, Zach Grossman, a county champion, and Ian Lynch, who went to the state tournament three years in a row, ought to be Hall of Famers here as well.
He knew the game of golf, but when it came to soccer and basketball, he leaned on others, he said, on Cold Spring Harbor’s Ralph Whitney when it came to soccer, and on Ed Petrie when it came to basketball.
“You learn a lot from other coaches, good and bad. Ralph Whitney was quiet-spoken, but he got his points across — he was a legend. When I played goalie for him we beat Oceanside to win the county soccer championship. . . . I coached junior high track at Cold Spring Harbor too, but all I knew to say was, ‘Don’t pass anybody on the curve.’ ”
Jim Nicoletti, who for a long time coached East Hampton’s baseball team, had also proved to be a valuable mentor when it came to softball, Beudert said. “He had a little red playbook that was so comprehensive. That book was like a Bible. He had hitting stations, fielding stations. . . . Nobody stood around.”
As aforesaid, golf, because of his father, his “role model,” he knew. “I was 16 when I first beat my dad, who was a 3-handicap, but I never could beat him in H-O-R-S-E. He had a two-handed set shot that he could hit from anywhere.”
“Another coach I’d like to mention as a mentor is Leon Parks. He had such a great way about him, especially with the African-American girls who played for us in the mid-80s — the Russells, Faye, Sonya, and Felicia, and Tammy Gilliam and Amanda Myrick Hayes, ‘the Morris Park Five.’ He’d say things like, ‘Every layup is like money from home — don’t miss it.’ He grew up in Brooklyn and played for Southampton College. He was a good teacher too.”
Winning the county and Long Island golf championships back to back in 2011 had been the highlight of his coaching career, Beudert said. “That team should be in the Hall of Fame too. That county tournament was an open one — every school from Floral Park to Montauk.”
“That ride home was so great — everyone was euphoric,” he was quoted as saying in The Star’s June 9, 2011, issue.
“The feel of the trophy was mystical, really. . . . Sam Snead once said that the mark of a great player is his ability to come back from defeat. We did that at Bethpage the other day. Our whole team did that.”
As for teaching, Beudert, who was active in the teachers union for many years, credited Kevin Graham, a former East Hampton High School psychologist, with having steered him — he’d been a social studies teacher initially — toward special ed in 1983.
His 34 ensuing years as a special ed teacher, divided evenly between the high school and middle school, had helped him become more patient, he said, as a teacher and as a coach. And having his own special ed class at the middle school, 15 to his class, had enabled him to get to know his students and their families “better than I would have had I been a mainstream teacher seeing 128 kids a day.”
“At the middle school, a woman I worked with for 17 years, Martine Jamet, was wonderful,” he added. “She was my Radar O’Reilly. She knew what I should be thinking before I was thinking it.”
In sum, coaching “has become more community-based. . . . It’s important to get to know the parents, to keep in touch with the kids. You want to know what’s going on in their lives. I think maintaining these relationships is important so that if there is a miscommunication they know where you’re coming from. You might not win as much as you once wanted to, but you know you’re helping in the development of the total kid, and that helps you sleep at night.”
He’ll remain on as the varsity golf coach and as a jayvee tennis coach for the time being, he said in answer to a question.
Meanwhile, retirement from teaching has afforded him time, “finally,” to get in shape, through early-morning workouts at the Kendall Madison Fitness Center at the high school and in basketball pickup games — “you can’t be from Evansville and not play basketball” — and also to work with the East Hampton Food Pantry.
“We’re taking it into the schools, into Montauk, Springs, and East Hampton. There’s definitely a community in need here, and we’re trying to enlist kids in the cause.”
“It’s not that I feel I should give back — it’s not self-serving. But to know that you’re doing something good does make you feel better. It makes you feel more connected.”