Pelham Pythons Football '07

Sat, Nov 17, 2007 12:30 PM @ Pelham
Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
Playoff Game
Gilford 0 7 7 0 7
Pelham 7 7 0 7 21
Jan Seeger, Staff PhotographerMore photos

Babaian sculpted champion program the hard way

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Saturday, November, 17 By Hector Longo
Staff writer

PELHAM | Tom Babaian wasn't around for Pelham High's "Powder Blue" varsity football premiere way back on Labor Day weekend in 1993 | a 36-0 loss at Kennett Regional in which the first-year Pythons couldn't muster a single first down.

It's about all he's missed when it comes to this football program, his program, crowned state champion for the first time ever yesterday with a 21-7 win over Gilford.

"That first year was a debacle," said Babaian, who joined Joe Travieso's staff as an assistant in 1994 and ultimately was named head coach in 1996. "But that wasn't the low point in the program. The lowest point was when I took over unfortunately. We went 1-8 and things didn't look good."

Yesterday, Babaian finally reached the pinnacle. That "low point" was just so far away. And this tiny border town let Babaian know how much this first championship was appreciated.

From the detail police to a giant bulldog dressed in Pelham blue, Babaian accepted congrats from them all.

"The one thing I can say about Tom is that he absolutely does it right," said Todd Kress, himself a state title-winning coach in boys hoop at Pelham. "He teaches life lessons first, and then football. No coach in the state deserves this more than him."

Babaian, a 1988 Salem High grad, has been a fixture on the football field in Pelham since he arrived. He immediately poured his heart and soul into the program, a point that few in this town miss.

"During football season, he virtually lives at the school," admired Babaian's MVP Bruce Vieira.

"He's the best coach I've ever had, and he's been doing it for 14 years. He knows the game better than anyone I know. Just to see him win this thing here is so special."

A physical education and health teacher at the high school, Babaian is more than a crazed football junkie. His passion for the game is only matched by his feeling for his athletes.

Yesterday, as the final seconds ticked away, Vieira dashed from midfield into his coach's arms like he was seeking the end zone.

Vieira almost transferred out of Pelham after his freshman year to a prep school. The one factor that kept him around?

"It was all about playing for Tom," said Vieira's dad, Bruce Sr. "And Tom assured me he'd take care of him."

That assurance was all the selling Babaian did. If Bruce really wanted out, his friend and coach wasn't getting in the way.

"All he said was that he was with me no matter what happens," said Vieira. "He was with me through it all. He talked to the prep coaches. He gave them my information, told them how good I was."

Considering the player he stood to lose, it says plenty about Babaian's character.

Of course, the folks in Pelham have seen that first-hand, win or lose, through the good times and bad.

"I credit Pelham High School for sticking with me," said Babaian. "A lot of people would have fired me after three years and not a lot of wins. This school stuck behind me."

And for what it's worth, Babaian has stuck with them. In recent years, bigger and better jobs have materialized around the region. Babaian's name has been tossed about, but the Python boss hasn't been buying.

"Honestly, I stayed to do just this," said Babaian. "I knew I could do it with a group like this. You could see the kids coming in. They wanted to be here and play here. It's hard to leave kids like that."

And Babaian has built his program the hard way, taking no short cuts.

"I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly," he said. "That just makes this that much sweeter."

This season was Pelham's third straight trip to the Division 5 playoffs, and the 2007 Python roster is dominated by underclassmen.

Yesterday's win cemented Babaian's spot in history. The second coach in program history is the first to bring home a state title. It also quietly made looking back just a little bit easier for the coach.

Ironically, yesterday's win pushed Babaian's career won-loss mark to 62-61. It's the first time in his tenure that Babaian's record moved above the .500 mark.

Chances are, it will never dip back below again. But the folks in Pelham don't need the measuring stick.

Tom Babaian's a winner. Make that a champion.

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