February 01. 2013 10:07PM

John Habib's City Sports: Keeping alive the legacy of Dan Duval

New Hampshire Union Leader

Nick Vailas has dedicated much of his life to community service, and last year the Moore Center recognized his efforts with a testimonial dinner. But as grateful as he was for the honor, Vailas was more concerned with recognizing the service of another member of Manchester's expansive sports community, the late Dan Duval.

As founder of the CHaD New Hampshire East-West High School Football All-Star Football Game, Vailas created the Dan Duval Community Service Award to recognize the player in the game who raised the most money for its main beneficiary, Children's Hospital at Dartmouth. And as a member of the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges, he proposed a Special Recognition Award be presented posthumously to Duval on Sunday, Feb. 10, at The Leaders: a Celebration of New Hampshire Sports Champions, the Union Leader's annual sports banquet.

The board - the voting body for the Union Leader's Athlete of the Month program (which is sponsored by Vailas' Apple Therapy Servics and Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center) and other awards presented at The Leaders - agreed.

Like Manchester Central alumnus Vailas, Duval was a star athlete in high school, leading Trinity in football and basketball. But unlike Vailas, who played college football at Plymouth State before becoming a successful businessman, Duval never fulfilled his athletic promise, his use of drugs and alcohol ending his career at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Vailas was an assistant coach.

But Duval got back on track, in fact became a better person. Recovered from substance abuse, he made it his mission to help young people - many of them athletes - avoid the mistakes he'd made or straighten out lives gone out of control. Countless students - not only in Manchester but around New England - gained from his motivational speeches, and many others received one-on-one guidance from a man who knew and understood their problems.

Duval died much too young, felled by a heart attack last May at 54, but his legacy lives on in the many lives he touched.

"Danny loved people, and people loved him," said Vailas. "In the latter stages of his life, Danny fought for a good cause and that was helping many people, particularly kids.

"The one lesson anyone learned after meeting Danny was never to give up. More importantly, if you knew him for a half-hour, he was a friend for life."

Familiar with Duval because of their Queen City backgrounds, Vailas first got to know him when their paths crossed in Canada.

"I got to see Danny play a little for Trinity when I was attending school and playing for Plymouth State," Vailas said. "When he got to St. Mary's, I was an assistant coach there, and I got to really know him as a person. I wasn't aware of his drug addiction at the time, but I knew I was in the presence of someone who had an incredible personality. He was one of those guys you would meet and never forget him - in a positive way."

As a football player, Vailas said, Duval "didn't look like an athlete, but he played like one. He had a tremendous hand-and-eye coordination as an inside linebacker, and he was always around the football. He was definitely a competitor."

Vailas said Duval's competitiveness also shined off the field.

"If I was in a foxhole being overrun by the enemy, he's the one guy I'd want to be in there with," said Vailas. "He'd always have your back, unconditionally."

Vailas said Duval's recovery from addiction was an ongoing process and a major part of that recovery was giving something back to others.

"Through his contact with others, through his amazing motivational speeches and even as a coach, Danny found ways to improve people's lives," Vailas said. "Countless people - in the thousands, and many of them kids - were touched by him. He was a very special person, someone I'm blessed to say I met and called a friend."

Many more friends - along with Vailas, the Board of Judges and the Union Leader - will honor Vailas next weekend. Other honorees will include the Athletes of the Month, the Union Leader All-State athletes and coaches of the year, winners of the Walter A. Smith Award for coaching and John R. Clark Award for officiating, and another Special Recognition Award recipient, Paralympics world champion swimmer Victoria Arlen of Exeter.

- - - - - - -

ALSO ON Vailas' busy agenda is next month's Safe Sports Social, a fundraiser for the Safe Sports Network, the organization he founded to help provide quality sports-medicine care for local athletes. The New Hampshire Orthopaedic Center will serve as presenting sponsor for the event, scheduled for March 27 at the Derryfield Country Club.

Videos and guest speakers will describe how kids in high school and youth sports benefit from Safe Sports programs. For more information, visit www.nhmi.net and click on the Safe Sports Social logo.

- - - - - - -

EVER SINCE he was 17, Jim Lauzon said, he dreamed about becoming a football head coach at the college level. Recently, he took another step toward realizing that dream, when he accepted an offer to join the staff of St. Anselm College head coach Pat Murphy as assistant coach in charge of tight ends and wide receivers.

"It's an opportunity I couldn't refuse," said Lauzon, who said he formally resigned from his post as head coach at Manchester High West three weeks ago to make the move to nearby St. A.

"This is a chance to get my foot into the door on the college level. If I passed up this opportunity, I don't know if I would ever get another chance to coach on the college level. I'm 24 years old, and I need to start building my resume with college jobs. My hope and dream is to become a college head coach some day. My wife told me that if I didn't accept the offer from St. Anselm, I may never know if my dream would come true."

As to whether his new job at St. Anselm is a paid position, Lauzon said, "It's still being discussed."

Lauzon, a paraprofessional at Manchester West, got married last summer. The couple celebrated the birth of a son, Shawn, in November.

Entering the open door at St. Anselm came after the difficult decision to close one at Manchester West.

"I really hated to leave, hated to leave the kids who worked so hard to build the program back into a contender," said Lauzon, who inherited a 1-9 team when he became the Blue Knights' head coach in 2011.

West was 3-7 in 2011 and 4-6 last season, including a a 36-14 upset of a highly touted Keene team that entered the game at 6-1. But the greatest indicator of the job Lauzon did at West may be the number of players the Knights had on last season's roster: a robust 81.

"So as much as I hate leaving the program, I leave knowing the program is better than it was two years ago," Lauzon said.

"City Sports" appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.