When he was head football coach at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, Pete Cooper knew his team would always have its hands full when it played Harold “Tank” Violette’s Winslow squad.
“He was a tough guy to coach against,” Cooper said of Violette. “His teams were always well-prepared.”
Violette, a former Winslow High School hockey and football coach as well as the school’s athletic director, died Tuesday. He was 77.
“Coach Violette, he was my mentor,” said Wes Littlefield, who played football at Winslow for Violette and is now an assistant football coach at the school. “He was a father figure to not only myself, but to anyone who played for him.”
Jim Poulin began his football coaching career as an assistant coach on Violette’s staff in 1974. Poulin said with the death of Violette, the Winslow community has lost an icon.
“He was special, and that’s an understatement,” Poulin said. “I never would have coached football if it wasn’t for him.”
Violette coached the Black Raiders football team from 1969 to 1984, winning 113 games and state championships in 1973, 1976 and 1982.
He was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2003, Violette was inducted into the University of Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
Violette grew up in Waterville before attending the University of Maine, where he played football and graduated in 1960.
Littlefield remembered Violette as an intense coach who stressed teamwork.
“He instilled playing for community pride and playing together as a team,” said Littlefield, also a former Messalonskee head coach.
“What you got from Harold was the real deal. You didn’t get any smokescreens,” added Wally LaFountain, who preceded Violette as head football coach at Winslow. “He coached that way, and he was that way in life.”
Violette was one of just three head football coaches at Winslow since 1958 — LaFountain and current coach Mike Siviski are the others. In the early 1960s, Violette served as an assistant coach under LaFountain before moving on to become head coach at Belfast Area High School. Violette won state titles in 1967 and ’68 at Belfast before returning to Winslow as head coach when LaFountain stepped down prior to the 1969 season.
“He was a motivator,” LaFountain said. “He asked a lot of his kids, and he got a lot out of them.”
Violette’s eye for detail was a key to the Black Raiders’ success, said Poulin, who retired from coaching in 2013.
“He was a student of the game, from the beginning of his career right to the end,” Poulin said. “Everything was just so precise. We’d run the same drill, over and over, until the kids knew it exactly. I think it helped make me a better teacher, not just a coach, all the repetition.”
LaFountain remembered Violette as a man who could coach anything. When Winslow needed a wrestling coach, Violette stepped in and took over the program for a year, despite no background in the sport. Violette went on to become a wrestling official.
“It was completely foreign to him, but not only did he do well, he got into collegiate meets,” LaFountain said.
In the 1970s, Violette helped start Winslow’s ice hockey program. He then coached the Black Raiders to six state titles. David Chayer, who graduated from Winslow High in 1990, played hockey for Violette.
“The leadership skills I learned from him as a teenager have served me well as an adult,” said Chayer, who works as the vice president of end user services at the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation.
As intense as Violette was during a practice or game, he was quiet away from the field or rink.
“He was kind of a gentle giant. Off the field, he was soft-spoken,” Cooper said.
Cooper recalled a brief conversation he had with Violette on the field prior to a Winslow-Lawrence football game.
“He said, ‘Cooper, I’ll be your best friend before the game and after the game, but during the game I want to kick your (butt),'” Cooper said.
Cooper said Violette’s gentle side came out in 2012, when Cooper’s wife Lois, died.
“When my wife died, who showed up at my house the next day? Harold and his wife, Harriet,” Cooper said.
Littlefield also remembered a fun-loving side of his coach. During preseason football practices, Violette would ask a group of younger players which of them was going to run to the soda machine and get him a Diet Pepsi. The players would look at each other for a moment, then sprint toward the machine, forgetting that none of them had any money.
“They never realized he was standing there, with a dollar in his hand, waiting for somebody to take it,” Littlefield said.