John Raymond honored with field dedication

Head coach John Raymond leads the Saranac Lake football team during his final game as the head of the program during the state Class B semifinal game against Edgemont in November 1998 in Kingston. (Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — There’s going to be a big reunion Tuesday evening on the field that the Saranac Lake High School football team calls its home turf, and everyone who turns out will be there to honor one man: coaching great John Raymond.

Last fall, Raymond joined another legend, Ken Wilson, as the two men that the field is now named after. The late coach’s entire family was unable to gather for a celebration at that time, but they’ll be together for a dedication this time around, along with a crowd of many more members of the Saranac Lake community who knew, loved and learned life lessons from Raymond.

The event takes place at Wilson-Raymond Field starting at 5 p.m. and will be followed by the annual end-of-the-year sports awards night in the high school auditorium.

Raymond was born in Tupper Lake in 1942 and grew up playing sports in that community. He was a quarterback for the Tupper Lake High School team, and after college, he made Saranac Lake his home until he passed away on March 18, 2016.

He spent 22 years over three different periods as the head coach of Saranac Lake’s varsity football team. Not only did Raymond lead his teams to multiple championships and guide young men in the process, his positive influence stretched much further into the school district and the community as a whole.

Raymond coached numerous sports and also served as the school district’s director of athletics. When it came to being an educator, he was a teacher, a dean of students, a principle and a school district superintendent.

But above all, being a coach was what John Raymond loved the best.

“Of all the jobs he had, the one he loved the most was coaching; any type of coaching,” his son Matt said. “I think this is going to be great. A lot of his old boys will be coming, and I think this is going to be more for them and less for him. He’d probably hate this. He wasn’t much of an individual type guy. For him, it was always more about the team. It will be cool to see his name up there. He certainly deserves it.”

Matt’s brother and sister, Mark and Reagan Phelan, will also be in attendance at the dedication.

Retired State Supreme Court Justice Jan Plumadore was a very close friend, as well as coaching colleague of Raymond’s. Plumadore returned from his second home in Florida on Friday to make sure he was back in town well ahead of the ceremony.

“I first met John when we were freshmen in high school,” Plumadore said. “We’ve been friends ever since. One reason I came back when I did was to make sure I’m at the field. I definitely wanted to honor John.

“There are two names on that field, two men who contributed to the school district and the community in very similar ways. Although of course, they were separated by several decades,” Plumadore added. “They were both about accountability. They were both about second chances.”

Plumadore said one reason a dedication is taking place at this time is that Mark Raymond really wanted to attend but is busy coaching football at Williams College during the fall. Mark played football under his father at Saranac Lake and followed his dad’s footsteps while becoming a successful coach at the college level.

Although John Raymond’s teams earned many championships at Saranac Lake, Plumadore said the coach’s influence stretched way beyond the gridiron.

“Everybody thinks about the won-loss records, the championships, and John was a truly great coach who was consistently successful,” Plumadore said. “Sometimes, he didn’t have the most talented players, and he won championships with them. I think of him a little differently. His coaching transcended into his administrative abilities. He was the leader of students, he was the leader of adults.

“What stands out the most to me was the way he impacted kids. They didn’t have to be athletes. To people who knew him, he may be a gruff, tough guy, but he was also adaptable. He realized each kid was an individual, and he dealt with them on individual level. I think kids realized quickly he had their best interest at heart. He was in it for them. I can’t count how many kids he turned on the right path. I know kid after kid after kid who went to college because of him. I know kids who stayed out of jail because of him. If they needed an ear, if they needed an advocate, he was there.”