BENNINGTON >> Mount Anthony wrestling coach Scott Legacy has led thousands of high school practices over the past three decades.
About 4,000, give or take a few.
Thursday's was the final one for Legacy leading the Patriots, as the team gets ready to compete at the New England tournament before Legacy moves on to start the program at Castleton University in the fall.
It hit him like a ton of bricks sitting outside the wrestling room in the basement at the high school.
"To be honest, it's just started to set in. There's a lot of memories here," said Legacy, becoming emotional. "A lot of coaches have stopped in during the week, like Rick Mattison, the first one who was with me. We were talking about how we started upstairs and then came down [into the basement] and moved all the refrigerators and stoves out and built this wrestling room."
They haven't always been in the basement — they used to be in the new wing of the high school before that was turned into classrooms, then they took over some space near where athletic director's Tim Brown's office is now.
The current room, which the wrestlers took over in 1993, had been used as a restaurant practice area.
"We were in the new wing before it had classrooms, we partitioned off part it, hung plastic bubble [wrap] all the way around and had one heater that blew in," Legacy recalled. "Fortunately, we got a principal who believed in me and when [the wing] became classrooms and the restaurant practice closed down here, we could convert it into a wrestling room."
Legacy and assistant coach Bucky Noyes said they added the showers in the bathroom and did a lot of the wiring and work to convert the kitchen into a wrestling space.
"We tore everything apart and nothing bad about the school, but the story is here's the difference with the wrestling team. We bring our mats upstairs, lay them down, put the tape on, mop the mats and pick them up and bring them [downstairs] again," Legacy said. "The hard work started from the beginning. Have we won 28 straight titles? Yeah, but think about what we do that's outside putting the uniform on. It's something the public doesn't see and people probably don't realize from the outside looking in. We're blue collar all the way."
On the mat, Legacy and the Patriots are looking to go out on top with another New England crown — Mount Anthony's fourth straight after victories in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
"It was normal, we handed out the brackets and talked about not looking past the first match," Legacy said. "Some of the more inexperienced guys are talking about who will win their weight class, and I'm like, 'You're in that weight class.' You have to visualize how you'll warm up, where in the arena you're going to do it. It has to be positive thoughts, and you shouldn't look at the path, start doing that and you'll never get out of the first round."
Twelve of Legacy's 14 varsity starters will compete at New Englands, which returns to the Providence Career and Technical Academy after a year away. Only three — Calvin Call at 126, Tyler Raetz at 138 and Ashdin Schaefer at 113 pounds — have competed at the New England tournament.
"We brought them to the Lowell Holidays [tournament] and it was similar to this tournament," Legacy said. "These guys started the season not being able to crawl — there were a lot of doubts coming into this year. Then they crawled, walked, took baby steps and then a light jog. Then the pace picked up and now we're in the stretch run, we're sprinting now, and that started at the state tournament, postseason tournament No.1.
"I told them that a lot of people didn't believe in you, then we went 40-1 this year [losing to Danbury, Ct.] and the loss made us a better team afterward, they had to find their own identity after that. Until then, they were riding the coattails of past teams. They've grown up throughout and the freshmen aren't like freshmen anymore," Legacy said.
Others competing in their first New England tournament are Tyson Sauer, Keenan Taylor, Zach Sauer, Tyler Burgess, Austin Pendergast, AJ Wright, Dakota King, Sebastian Rocher and Calvin Hayford.
"I talked to Tyson today and I told him, don't regret anything, don't let it get into your mind, if he can do that, he'll do very well at New Englands," said senior Tyler Raetz.
Raetz said even though Legacy is adamant about the Patriots wrestling for themselves and not him, in the back of his mind, he wants to be a part of the team that sends Legacy out on top with a regional crown.
"He always says don't do it for him, do it for ourselves, but I definitely want to win it for Legacy too, he's done a lot for us over the past four years, Calvin, Dakota, all the seniors," Raetz said.
Legacy said no matter what happens this weekend in terms of scores, a win wouldn't be an exclamation point on his career.
"I'm walking in believing in these guys and regardless of how the chips fall, I expect we'll wrestle hard and if we do, no matter where we are in the standings, as long as we can look in the mirror and be happy about how we went about it, I'll be happy. It's a wild tournament because there's no seeding, it's very unpredictable," Legacy said.