Duplechin teaches kids first, winning comes as byproduct

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, June 16, 2022

EDITOR’S NOTE: First in a series about 10 inductees to be enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on June 25 in Natchitoches.

By Robin Fambrough

Special to the American Press

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Stories about turning a childhood passion for sports into a way of life are not new. Many are dismissed as cliché.

Claney Duplechin marvels as he tells his. A combination of fate and philosophy define his career as a record-setting high school coach that is anything but ordinary.

“I keep pinching myself … I don’t understand how we’ve got so many titles,” Duplechin said. “Every year is different. It’s different kids and you have to have some talent.

“What we have always had are kids who have been willing to work. It’s a tradition of work. It’s like a snowball that continues to roll.”

The Mamou native has won a combined 64 Louisiana High School Athletic Association titles in track and cross country, a total that ranks sixth nationally, according to MaxPreps.com. A streak of 25 consecutive boys cross country titles is second all time as listed by the National Federation of High Schools.

Add three national coach of the year honors and the MaxPreps 2020 rankings that put Duplechin among the best 100 high school coaches in the nation. Yes, the picture of excellence is clear, and it has earned him entry into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Duplechin and 11 others will be enshrined June 25 in Natchitoches during the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2022 induction celebration.

All of his success is rooted in Duplechin’s sophomore year of high school.

He was challenged by a formidable mentor and started dating the girl who has been his wife for almost 49 years. Fate delivered a double whammy and Duplechin is grateful.

“I didn’t know if I would go to school (college),” Duplechin explains. “Neither of my parents graduated high school. Maybe I would have worked on the farm or worked offshore like some people do.

“I never gave it much thought … until I met Phyllis and had coach (Floyd) Aucoin as a teacher.”

A geometry classroom showdown with Aucoin, the Mamou High football coach who also was his youth baseball coach, was transformative.

“I was sitting in the back of class cutting up … just normal stuff. And (Aucoin) said, ‘I want to see you after class,’” Duplechin recalled.

“I went to the front of the classroom and he said, ‘Listen, I’ve been coaching you since you were seven years old. I know you’re not stupid. I know you’re smart. From now on, you are going to sit right here, right next to my desk, and make straight A’s.

“And that was what happened. He was an ex-Marine, someone I respected the heck out of. That, right there, changed my life.”

Duplechin was a high school quarterback. He also played basketball, baseball and competed in track, ironically, only when there was no conflict with baseball.

“Phyllis and her siblings were all valedictorians at Mamou High. So there was no question school was in the future for me,” Duplechin said. “I went to summer school at LSU right after high school. A lot of people changed their major. Not me, I wanted to be a coach.”

Duplechin was hired at Catholic High of Baton Rouge four years later. He was set to coach freshman football and wanted baseball to be his second sport. Instead, he was assigned to coach freshman track under another Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer, Pete Boudreaux.

Perfect setup for a cliché, “And the rest is history.” Only it wasn’t … at least not at first. Duplechin quickly worked his way through the ranks to become defensive coordinator.

The Bears’ defense earned the nickname “Orange Crush.” Duplechin also became Boudreaux’s varsity assistant in track. At age 24, Duplechin was hired as head football coach, track coach and athletic director at then Class 1A Episcopal.

It was 1978. Fate stepped in with what has been the opportunity of a lifetime. Self-realization, a new philosophy and track and field success followed. There was no lightning in a bottle or overnight event.

“I coached football for six years and enjoyed it,” Duplechin said. “We changed the program and were 7-3 my last two years. At the time, we had a coach on staff, Brannon LeBlanc, who wanted to be a head football coach.

“I looked at my own two children and saw them growing. I wanted to spend more time with them. When Brannon said he was going to leave, I said, ‘Stop.’ We swapped positions.”

Oddly enough, he started coaching cross country in his final year as head football coach and the Knights finished second in Class A. Duplechin admits he was “hooked” on cross country then.

One Episcopal football/track athlete forced Duplechin to scrutinize himself. That athlete, Tommy Bell, does not recall the conversation but is among Duplechin’s friends.

“‘Coach, you were like Jekyll and Hyde. You were so crazy and animated in football. Then in track, you are this calm,’” Duplechin recalls Bell telling him. “In football, that was the model … to scream, and it fit me because I am a Type-A personality. But I learned from Pete there were other ways to coach. You don’t have to raise your voice.

“That got me thinking — I’ve got to become who I am. My philosophy about winning changed. As a young coach, winning is the only thing sometimes. I knew I wanted to make kids better people first, then see what happens, win or lose.

“I preach that with the breakout — ‘Go Knights, good people, have fun, state champs’ every day. Personal bests, or PRs … each person working to be better each day is most important.”

Since then, history has been made. Lives, including Duplechin’s, have changed and enriched.

Whether the subject is track and field or life lessons, Duplechin’s platform is teaching. Much has been made of “The Streak” … the Knights’ string of 25 consecutive boys cross country titles that ended last fall with a second-place finish to Baton Rouge-area rival The Dunham School.

Duplechin contends a loss the year before the streak began is just as meaningful. A student-athlete was caught cheating and Duplechin chose to sit him out of the state meet, even though he had been cleared to compete.

“My reasoning was that there must be consequences in sports, just like there are in life. I think our athletes saw that and realized I said what I meant and meant what I said,” Duplechin said. “It galvanized things. Without that second place, I am not sure we get 25 titles in a row.”