Teddy Bear Pools Owner Ted Hebert Plays Passion
Have you ever:
Won an auto race at Riverside Park Speedway?
Piloted a hot-air balloon?
Visited 80 of the world’s 195 countries?
Had a professional hockey tryout on your 50th birthday?
Launched a successful business in the car port of your parents’ house?
Acted in “The Graduate” at the Majestic Theater?
Skated with Boston Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk?
Sponsored 250 sports teams, male and female, from ages 6 to 60?
All that, and more, has been part of the life of Ted Hebert, a 60-year-old dynamo who grew up in East Springfield and is now in his 36th year as chief executive of Teddy Bear Pools & Spas, based in Chicopee.
On the Western Massachusetts sports scene, you’ll find “Teddy Bear” teams playing everything from small fry baseball to senior hockey.
Hebert’s also has become a benefactor of the Chowder Bowl, a high-school football fund-raiser for Springfield’s Shriners Hospital.
Add to that the 300 or so golf tournaments that have been sponsored by Hebert and his business over the years, and his work as a board member of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, as well as support for the Rotary, the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Control and Adoptive Center.
“I love doing it. It’s an opportunity to help others,” Hebert says. “And, once I started doing it, it just snowballed. I have a hard time saying no.”
By the way, the name “Teddy Bear” actually is a play on his own name. (If given its proper French pronunciation, Ted Hebert comes out sounding like “Ted A-bear”).
“That goes back to when I was trying to think of a name for my new business. I was talking with my mom (Billie Hebert) about it, and I said, ‘How about Pools by Ted?’ We didn’t like that, so I said, ‘Hey, how about Teddy Bear Pools?’ My mother said she thought that was a terrible name, but I decided to go with it.”
Despite that difference of opinion, Hebert knows how important mom was in his life. She died in 1994.
“I had a great mother. She taught me how to have integrity and work my ass off,” he said recently. “Mom always gave to charity, even when we didn’t have much. I’d ask her why she was doing it and she’d say, ‘They need it more than we do.’”
Teddy Bears Pools started in 1975. As the business grew, so did Hebert’s interest in sports.
“It goes back to when I was a kid, playing (6- to 8-year-old) baseball for St. Mary’s (of East Springfield). I was the guy they kept on the bench until the score was 15-0. At that point, they would let me play right field,” he recalled.
Back then, though, Hebert loved wearing a uniform.
“I liked them, because they all had somebody’s name on the back, a business of some kind,” he said.
Yes, those were the sponsors, and now Hebert has taken that kind of generosity to a new level.
Don’t ask him how much money he pours into sports.
“That doesn’t matter. I do it because I can, and I want to,” he said.
Hebert became involved in American Legion baseball in the 1990s when Ludlow coach Jeff Garrow asked him if he would pay for one of the team’s caps. Hebert did much more than that, and now also acts as the major sponsor of the Chicopee-Aldenville Legion team and Springfield’s Post 21 entry.
Garrow, currently Post 21’s assistant coach, says Hebert called him last August after reading in The Republican that the team would be looking for sponsors for 2011.
“He told me, ‘Anything you need, let me know,’ “ Garrow said.
Whether it’s baseball, basketball, soccer or hockey, you’ll generally find Teddy Bear teams in action – sometimes against each other.
“I like to find the time to go to games. I remember one year I went to see a Small Fry team play. They didn’t win a game, but they were so into it, that it was good to see,” he said.
Hebert admits that he wasn’t much of an athlete as a kid, or when he went to Classical High School. All the while, though, he had a favorite sport – hockey.
“I remember going to the (Eastern States) Coliseum and having Eddie Shore tell me to he’d throw me out if I put my feet on the seat in front of me,” he said.
Years later – long after finally learning to skate at the age of 25 – he began playing senior hockey. His teammates included Bob Shore and his brother, Eddie, grandsons of the hockey hall-of-famer who operated Springfield’s American Hockey League franchise for four decades.
“Sometimes their dad (Ted Shore) would coach our team. That was special. I always thought hockey was a great spectator sport, and I found that it’s even greater to play,” Hebert said.
He’s still at it, three nights a week, mainly because he has an understanding wife. He and the former Barbara Bigos, of Chicopee, have been married for 24 years.
Of course, the name of his over-40 league team is Teddy Bear Pools.
“Who else would have me?” he asks.
Hebert long has been a corporate sponsor of the AHL’s Springfield Falcons franchise.
“Ted is a very loyal supporter of our organization,” says Falcons president and general manager Bruce Landon.
Their long-time friendship led Landon to pull a surprise on Hebert’s 50th birthday.
“He let me have a tryout with the team. I even had to sign a professional tryout agreement for one day,” Hebert is proud to recall. “Ralphie Calvanese (Falcons equipment manager) had a game jersey for me with my name on it, and he assigned me a locker in the dressing room. I skated through one of their regular workouts, and I had to do all the calisthenics they do before skating.”
Over the years, Hebert has hired Landon’s players for part-time jobs during the summers. One of them, Ontario native Rod Willard, settled in the area after his playing career ended. He’s now one of Hebert’s full-time employees.
Hockey also has given him the opportunity to skate with the stars. In a charity game a few years back, he played with Boston Bruins old-timers, including Johnny Bucyk and Mike Milbury.
Auto racing rates right up there with hockey among Hebert’s favorite sports.
His personal highlight came on his 40th birthday at Riverside, when he won for the first time as a driver in the pro stock division. “That was great, because I had gone four or five years without winning,” Hebert said.
He was part of a team that featured Mario Fiore, Reggie Ruggiero and “Gentleman Jack” Lecuyer – all beloved names in Riverside lore.
In 2000, he had another memorable auto-racing experience. His racing team, led by driver Jerry Marquis, won NASCAR’s national modified championship, clinching it on the final race of the season at Thompson, Conn., Speedway.
“Jerry nailed it by beating one of my old favorites, Reggie Ruggiero,” Hebert said.
On his office wall, he has a photograph of West Springfield’s Bob Polverari winning the last feature race before Riverside Speedway closed down in 1999. “That was a sad night at a great race track,” he said.
Hebert bought all the Riverside Speedway seats when the old facility was taken down, and has them stored in Enfield. He considered using them as part of a plan to build a new track in Southwick, but wasn’t been able to find a site suitable to him and agreeable to the town.
His willingness to face up to challenges took him down a different path in 2008. At the urging of a friend, he auditioned at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield for the role of Ben’s father in “The Graduate.” To his surprise, he got it.
“I had been involved with the Majestic as a sponsor, but now I was in an actual play for the first time in my life. I was so tensed up, I had to have massage therapy. But I wound up doing 36 performances over six weeks, and I’ve been told that I did OK.”
That was a major milestone for a man who had a stuttering problem in his youth. He has gone on to become a motivational speaker.
Yes, that’s “Teddy Bear,” all right. He always gives it his all, whether he’s working, playing, traveling, acting, speaking – or sponsoring teams in sports of all sorts
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