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Bears Bunel finds the right notes; earns Teacher of the Year honors

POSTED June 21, 2015
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            TH0MASTON – When asked one time who would win a golf match between his three sons, Chris, A.J. or Jim, dad Charles 'Pink' Bunel wasted no time with an answer – “My money is A.J., he might not have the most talent but he’s a grinder.”

            Indeed. Watching Bunel walk down the hall at his place of business Thomaston High School and there is a sense of a man on a mission. The tie is loose, the shirt tucked in at some points and at some points not so tucked in.

            There is a sense of purpose here a sense of making something of the day not waiting for the day to end. It is why you see good things ahead for Bunel’s Thomaston High boys basketball team. Why down the road, the Bears will plug away to make more nights belong to them.

            Most high school coaches teach. Most do not receive the honor as their district’s Teacher of the Year. Bunel earned the nod recently as announced by Thomaston Superintendent of Schools Francine Coss.

            Often coaches earn a good percentage of their notoriety by what they do on the sidelines not in the classroom. Not so with Bunel. Part of that is because he is so early in his career, just one season as the Bears coach preceded by one season as JV coach and two years as the freshman coach.

            Bunel also brought a stellar family name and playing career to Thomaston where he made a memorable mark as a guard on the Gilbert School’s 1989 and 1999 back-to-back Class S championship teams.

            But, while Bunel’s commitment to the basketball program certainly occupies a place in his selection as Teacher of the Year, the central part of it all is his dedication resulting in the ongoing resurrection of Thomaston’s music program.

            Bunel is a music guy, probably the only coach around that can make the piano ivory sing and play a couple of instruments. He is involved in productions at the Thomaston Opera House and a major source of help with the Thomaston Center School and Black Rock School music programs.

            It is the THS band, however, where you see the music man’s magic. When Bunel arrived in Thomaston’s band was basically defunct. The closets had band uniforms with no bodies to wear them, the few instruments lay lonely more decorative than functional. There were no lips for the horns and no hands for the strings.

            Thomaston’s band strong and proud had been a staple through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but gradually gave way to a consistent change in teachers, a turn away from any kind of emphasis on the arts and low numbers.

            Bunel’s first band had four students. Two could actually play instruments. There were other issues. Undeterred, Bunel pushed on. There were long days and some sour notes but teachers teach and Bunel taught.

            With the help and push from elementary music teacher Kate Zitnay, Bunel has brought the music back to Thomaston High School. All sorts of music. The band is back, 30 or so strong. After years of paying the outstanding Lewis Mills High School band to march in the town’s Memorial Day Parade and ceremony, the Thomaston High band now marches proudly, the uniforms and music alive again.

                 Bunel has even promised to teach his students to play `Columbia, Gem of the Oceans’ an integral part of Thomaston’s unique Memorial Day ceremony in the town’s cemetery. For years it has been played on a weak recording.  You can bet it will be done.

 And the band is getting better as he mixes the various ages and instruments. The resurrection is in full swing.  

            It doesn’t stop at the band for Bunel.  He has brought back the chorus and chorale groups who sing at concerts and graduation. He has done it all in a school that like so many in the area are fighting declining enrollment and is down to 227 students.

            Bunel is one those teachers that is there long before the official school day begins and long after the official day ends. His car sometimes looks like it hasn’t moved in days.  He sees a special ingredient in the Thomaston kids and the feeling is mutual.

            There have been offers of other jobs but Bunel has said he likes to finish what he starts which prompted this remark from Coss – “I hope then he never feels like he is finished.’

            Expect the same kind of commitment to Golden Bears basketball. Bunel is a teacher and one of the best. Down the road you figure there’s a lot of beautiful music to be found at Thomaston – on the court and on the stage.

            Aaron Bunel -, Thomaston’s maestro.

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