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Remembering Lee “Coach” Cabutti

A 40-year member of the Interlochen Arts Camp community, Cabutti was revered as leader, teacher, and friend.

Coach Cabutti on bike

Lee "Coach" Cabutti on his bike in 1975.

Lee "Coach" Cabutti during the summer of 1964

Lee "Coach" Cabutti walks through the High School Boys division during the summer of 1964.

Staff image with Coach Cabutti

Cabutti in a staff photo from 1946. (Middle row, second from left)

Coach Cabutti with student

Cabutti with a student in 1986.

Update: A celebration of life honoring Coach Cabutti is scheduled for Sunday, July 9, 2023. Please see below for more details on the celebration. 

Interlochen Center for the Arts is deeply saddened to share the passing of longtime Junior Boys counselor and High School Boys Division Director Lee “Coach” Cabutti on Sept. 8, 2022. He was 97. 

Born April 5, 1925 in Johnson City, Illinois, Cabutti attended Southern Illinois University and was a member of the Salukis basketball team during their 1946 NAIA Championship-winning season. As a coach, Cabutti led the varsity team at Herrin High School for five seasons before serving as athletic director and head coach at Champaign Central High School. Regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in Illinois basketball history, Cabutti coached 908 basketball games, winning 527. He was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1974. 

Cabutti joined the National Music Camp staff in 1946 as a Junior Boys (now Junior Pines) counselor, a position he held for 11 summers. Following a six-year hiatus—during which he pursued an advanced degree in high school administration—Cabutti returned to Interlochen as the director of High School Boys (now High School Pines) in the summer of 1963. He led the division until 1992.

Lee "Coach" Cabutti with the High School Boys staff, 1967.

Lee "Coach" Cabutti (far right) with the 1967 High School Boys staff.

“Not many bosses engender lifelong love and loyalty from their former employees the way Coach Cabutti did,” recalls Dr. David Posen (IAC/NMC 57-58, IAC St 62-64), who worked under Cabutti on the High School Boys waterfront staff in 1963 and 1964. “He was simply the best boss I’ve ever had. He was firm but fair, and you always knew where you stood with him.  He was no-nonsense, but also warm, funny, and charismatic – quite a combination.

Dr. Michael Bresler (IAC/NMC 56-58, 60-61, 64, UNIV 65; IAC St 72, 77-79, 87-91, 02-04) agrees. “I really got to know the Coach during my single summer as one of his counselors,” says Bresler. “I learned more about leadership from The Coach during those two months working for him than the entire rest of my life.”

During his tenure at Interlochen, Cabutti emphasized treating all students equally, valued hard work, and believed that the Arts Camp experience taught students important lessons beyond the arts—such as how to get along with others, make a bed, and clean a toilet. Cabutti also encouraged students to participate in recreational and athletic activities, which he believed fostered heightened artistic and personal achievement. 

Lee Cabutti leads morning exercises on the High School Boys tennis courts

Lee Cabutti leads exercises on the High School Boys tennis courts during the summer of 1964.

Lee "Coach" Cabutti playing baseball during the summer of 1973

Lee "Coach" Cabutti plays baseball during the summer of 1973.

In 2002, Interlochen Center for the Arts recognized Cabutti’s dedicated service by naming the Pines campus athletic fields in his honor. A commemorative plaque on the northwest corner of the field remembers Cabutti as:

“A leader whose vision, initiative, and dedication led to the creation and maintenance of this recreational space.

A teacher who encouraged perseverance, discipline, and spirited competition in the pursuit of excellence.

A friend who inspired loyalty through his charisma, fairness, consistency and humor.”

A celebration of life honoring Lee "Coach" Cabutti is scheduled for Sunday, July 9, 2023. Please join us on Cabutti Field at Interlochen Center for the Arts at 4 p.m. An off-campus reception will follow.