Founder of Vermont wrestling talks his past
BENNINGTON -- For the past two generations, Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling coach Scott Legacy has set the standard for the sport in the state of Vermont, leading a national-record 26 straight Patriot teams to state championships and eight to New England crowns in his 30 years.
For a different generation, the person considered the father of Vermont wrestling has another name -- Art Gage.
But the now 78-year-old Gage only coached in Bennington for three years -- from 1963 to 1965 -- and left for Middletown, N.Y. before Bennington High School transformed into Mount Anthony in 1967.
But the year before, the wheels were turning to start a wrestling program -- something new in Vermont that would leave a definitive mark.
"We were the only team in Vermont in [1962-63]," said Gage, who returned to Bennington last week to watch his great-grandsons compete at the Northeast Wrestling Challenge at Mount Anthony Middle School. "We had to travel to New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and some of the border towns in New York to compete. It was the only way to get enough matches to make it worthwhile."
Gage, who was born in Windsor but grew up in Bennington, wrestled in college at Ithaca, taught and coached out there for three years. After that, Gage was told of a job at Ben Hi for a football coach and a physical education teacher and traveled back to to jump on the opportunity.
In his first year in Bennington, the administration decided to start a wrestling program and a Dec. 1, 1962, article in the Banner mentioned that wrestling would start in Bennington and Hoosick Falls that winter.
"My first year here, we had a real good principal and [athletic director], they really wanted to build the program up," Gage said. "The travel was unreal in the first year."
Despite the long bus rides, the Ben Hi grapplers held their own. They had a 5-3 record in that first season, led by Greg Squires at 110 pounds with a 10-1 record. During the season, Squires won the outstanding wrestler award at a tournament in New Hampshire. At the Northern New England tournament, four wrestlers returned with hardware: Ken Simpson (127), Charles Harvey (95) and Carl Squires (133) all scored fourth-place medals, while Greg Squires won third.
"The kids loved to tangle," Gage remembers. "They wanted to know where the ring was. It was always, ‘Coach. When's the next fight going to be?' They got the feel for it ... then they started getting it. I recruited from the football team, guys like Art Eastman and Bobby Babcock, but the Squires' were just interested in fighting. They were rough cut boys."
In 1964, the Ben Hi boys went 7-4, with Eastman and Greg Squires placing at New Englands. Other wrestlers Gage coached included Roy, Richard and Catamount Squires, Jim Betz, Brad Smith, Bobby Baldwin and Brad Stevens, to name a handful.
In 1965, after his third year coaching and teaching at Bennington High, Gage heard of a similar opportunity in Middletown, N.Y., and took it, leaving his hometown behind. He's lived there ever since, coaching wrestling and teaching at the high school until 1992, when he retired.
But in between, Gage started the youth wrestling program in Middletown, something that Dick Squires and Oakley Frost started shortly thereafter in Bennington.
In 1973, Gage came back to award trophies at the first MAYAA wrestling tournament.
"They brought the MAU teams down to [Middletown] and we brought my two sons [to Bennington]," Gage said.
Last week's Northeast youth tournament was his first time back in Bennington in years, even though Art and wife Ida own a home in Mount Holly. But Gage continues to keep an eye on MAU and Legacy.
"They've really progressed, [MAU has been] nationally ranked for years [and] I'm close enough to see them in dual meets with Danbury. My wrestlers have kept track, they know I came from Bennington, I'm proud of MAU and the job Scott has done."
And Gage said he's proud of the state of wrestling in Vermont, the seed he planted more than a half-century ago.
"[The sport is] growing in Vermont, it's getting better every year," Gage said.
Even though he officially retired more than two decades ago, Gage still "coaches" his great-grandsons -- 8-year-old Andrew and 6-year-old Zach, by watching videos of their matches.
"Andrew had all pins today and Zach had two pins and a major [decision]," Gage said. "The tradition goes on."
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