CARIBOU, Maine — When Stephen Perreault was first asked to become Caribou’s middle school boys soccer coach in 1982, he knew nothing about the game.
Perreault did not know a corner kick from a goal kick and felt that someone else would be better for the job. But the school had no other candidates and risked losing the team without a coach.
“Our athletic director, Neal Genz, looked at me and said, ‘Keep [the team] organized and disciplined and the rest will come,'” Perreault said.
That began a 41-year career of learning about soccer from his players and molding those boys into young men who could become respected leaders.
Perreault coached his final home game at Caribou Community School Tuesday. After coaching his final soccer game in Houlton Monday, Perreault will end a career that also included 38 years of coaching middle school boys basketball, until 2018, and five years of middle school girls softball from the late 1980s to early ’90s.
The school honored Perreault for his years as a coach before his final home soccer game Tuesday.
While attending the University of Maine at Presque Isle in the late 1970s, Perreault knew why he wanted to become a teacher: so he could also become a coach and make a positive impact on young people.
After working as a student teacher and long-term substitute at the former Caribou Middle School, Perreault was hired there in 1980 as a science and social studies teacher. He graduated from UMPI that same year.
Perreault started coaching middle school boys basketball his first year in Caribou, and took up soccer two years later.
“It was nice seeing some of the same young men from soccer go into basketball,” Perreault said. “I wanted to coach in the same school I taught in. The kids knew I was there for them.”
Perreault estimates that he coached at least 1,300 students over the years. Along the way, he embraced several mantras that he repeated to his players, including “Have character, don’t be a character,” “It’s not that you win, it’s how you win,” and “If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late.”
Whether on or off the field, Perreault knew how to speak with young boys and teach them valuable life lessons, said Ryan Corrigan of Caribou, one of Perreault’s former middle school soccer players.
“He always treated us with respect, the way he wanted us to treat him,” said Corrigan, a 2000 Caribou High School graduate.
Those lessons extended to Corrigan’s son, Owen, now a 10th grader at Caribou High. Owen also played middle school soccer under Perreault.
“My favorite memories are winning games with him and the years we had undefeated seasons,” Owen Corrigan said.
Perreault’s teams were undefeated the past two seasons, but he considers the skills and values the boys gained as greater than any game victories.
In sixth grade, the players mostly watch and learn, picking up skills and moves from the older players. That paves the way for seventh grade, in which they take on more important roles during games. By eighth grade, many of the players become captains and team leaders.
“Leadership is important to me,” Perreault said. “I hope they learn enough leadership, discipline and respect to become great fathers or rec soccer coaches one day and give back to their communities.”
One of Perreault’s former soccer players, Paul Hanson of Caribou, is already following in his coach’s footsteps.
A 2016 Caribou High graduate, Hanson now coaches middle school baseball. Both Hanson and his father, Ralph Hanson, benefited from Perreault’s guidance as middle school soccer players. Perreault inspired Paul Hanson to become a school sports coach.
Though Perreault retired from teaching in middle school in 2020, he returned that fall after RSU 39 could not find a qualified candidate to teach high school science. Perreault plans to continue teaching for at least another year or two.
As he leaves coaching behind, Perreault plans to spend more time with family, including a grandson who just began playing soccer as a fourth grader in Presque Isle.
“I’ll miss the interactions with my players,” Perreault said. “At heart, I’m a teacher and that’s what coaches are.”