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Ledyard loses its Colonel, RIP Bill Mignault

Ledyard – Here is where it begins and ends for me with William F. Mignault:

I loved the guy.

The once and future father of football here in our corner of the world.

And so I believe I speak for everyone here who knew him when I type the following words: Rest in peace, Bill.

It was with profound sorrow Wednesday that the region learned of Bill's death. He was 90. He coached Ledyard High School to 321 wins, third most in state history. Four state championships, the final of which came in 2007, when he was 78. Ten league championships.

But most importantly: This retired Air Force officer who grew up in Killingly, who once coached football on an Air Force base in Germany many years ago, decided to make Ledyard, CT his home. And Bill Mignault became the face of his town. Ledyard never had a more notable resident, never anyone else who gave it such a good name.

Mignault's program was a monument to the unspoken incorruptibility of simplicity. He ran seven plays to perfection: 36 pitch, 26 boot, 58 sweep, 29 counter, tailback jet, 23 crossbuck and 19 fade.

Former Fitch coach Mike Emery once said of him, "Nobody had him beat on fundamentals. And he always seemed to know when to call the right play."

Translation: When the opponent zigged, Bill Mignault zagged. He even won a state championship game on a gadget play: "29 counter pass, quarterback down." It was a throwback pass to quarterback Marc Mignault, one of Bill's three grandsons to play in the program. Marc, who was more wide open than Wyoming, caught the pass and ran into history.

My all-time favorite: The fake knee fade. It happened at the end of a half once. The quarterback made like he was about to take a knee and run out the clock. Instead, he threw a bomb down the sideline per the ol' professor's orders.

It worked, too.

Mignault, who modeled his program after the Packers and Vince Lombardi, gave it an identity through its consistency. He said once, "It's not what I know. It's what the kids know." That line was one of his greatest hits, right up there with "It never rains in Ledyard." Sure, we spent many Saturday mornings at games drenched. Can't say I recall Ledyard losing any one of them.

Bill came back to coaching for a spell at Coast Guard. He had to. The idea of keeping Mignault off the football field was like asking Secretariat to trot.

In 42 years, Mignault coached a Bubba, Bydrow and a B.K. There was the kid named Stevens they called "Cat." (Don't make me explain that.) Mignault experienced the joy of coaching his sons and grandsons — and the pain of enduring the deaths of program greats Mike Daggett and John Langford.
Their uniform numbers — 36 for Daggett and 21 for Langford — were present at the 2007 state championship game. The game ended on Berlin's fumble at the goal line, yet no one could explain how the fumble happened. One player told assistant coach Brian Mignault, "Coach, it was angels in the end zone."

Draw your own conclusions.

"The wins and championships speak for themselves, but it's the Ledyard football fraternity that he built and maintained that is the true testament to his career," grandson B.K. Mignault once said. "The saying goes, 'Once a Colonel, always a Colonel.' He was our colonel, he was our leader, and his legacy will live forever."

Amen to that.

Bill Mignault is one of the most important sports figures in our history. He gave our corner of the world an identity, back in the days where the rest of the state thought Rhode Island began after the Baldwin Bridge. "Football" became the first word associated with Ledyard.

Emerson wrote this once: "Death comes to all, but great achievements build a monument which shall endure until the sun grows cold."

Bill Mignault was awash in great achievements. The football field bears his name at the high school. The numbers say plenty. But the legacy says more.

Bill Mignault is a Ledyard institution.

Once a Colonel, always a Colonel.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro



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