There isn't to much that Jerry Perkins hasn't seen or done during a coaching career that spans five decades and there will certainly be no regrets when he hangs up his wrestling shoes at the conclusion of this season. The coach has numerous memories of teams and events through out the years which bring smiles, however, Perkins is realistic and will be the first one to point out that it's the hundreds of wrestlers who deerve a lot of the credit.
There was no mistaking who has been in complete charge of the programs, although the names have changed from Stephens, to Rumford High Schools between 1967-88 and for the past seven years at Mountain Valley. The main constant has been that the student-athletes have all come from the same blue-collar, mill-town area nestled in the mountains of Western Maine.
"Wrestling is perfect for this town and area,"Perkins said. "I've found that the kids are hard-nosed and have the mentality to succeed in the sport. I knew when I first started that I was on to something and one of the things needed to be done was to redirect the energy of the kids."
Perkins, a Brewer native, had just graduated from the University of Maine and was a member of the Black Bear football that played in the 1965 Tangerine Bowl. Perkins was recommended by Walter Abbott to coach football at Stephens. He was originally hired as an assistant and served as the head coach from 1970-80. The wrestling job was available because founder Mel Preble wasn't interested in returning. Despite having only wrestled while at Brewer H.S. under Don Horsapple and in intramurals at UMAINE, Perkins was eager to take over the reins and the team was excited because it prevented the program from being disbanded.
"I was 23 years old and I wanted to be a head coach,"Perkins said. "I went home with a couple books and learned all that I could. I can remember that we used to wrestle in the armory on a bunch of (lumpy) horse-hair mats that were tied together. But, I loved it and I still have the same passion for the sport today."
Perkins was drawn to wrestling because of the hand-to-hand combative combat, the strategies involved and the hard work and dedication that was necessary to be successful. Perkin' own persona and work ethic certainly blended right in, and the wrestlers bought in to his philosophies. Early in his career, Perkins established himself as a task master, with a no-nonsense attitude. These trademarks have included enduring his intimidating icy stare to taking directions from a booming voice that created fear in whoever it was directed at."
"We dreaded the long bus ride up to Rumford,"Terry Devereaux said. " The thing that impressed me about Jerry was how much he cares for his athletes and wants them to succeed in life after graduation. He earned their respect and I've never heard any of his ex-athletes speak a negative word about him and he is certainly revered by some of them."
The sport of wrestling in the state was still growing and there wasn't much support or publicity, however, things started to change beginning in 1970 when Dave Giroux won a New England championship. Rumford then put itself on another level that had other teams left in complete awe.
The Panthers won five Class A state championships in a 10 year span, including consecutive state championships from 1972-74. The '72; team won despite having no individual state champions and the '73; team set a then-national record with six state champions. Wrestlers on that team included Dave Magoon and Steve DeFillip who each started as juniors and were both two-time individual state champions.
"Jerry was tough,"former assistant Tom Costello said. "He pushes kids, but there's nothing he likes better than to see kids succeed. He preaches hard work and established a tradition."
Perkins, a 1994 inductee in the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame, has always utilized two philosophies in preparing wrestlers for battle and those are still quite successful even today. He teaches the basics to the wrestlers because the same moves are effective year after year, but more importantly was the strong emphasis that has been placed on physical conditioning. The mentality and mat toughness of the wrestlers is widely known because the teams traditionally have won numerous matches in the third period by being in better condition.
"Jerry Perkins is a legend,"former coach Dennis Bishop said. "Jerry did a lot for the sport and those Rumford teams always had some tough wrestlers who were well prepared. When ever opposing teams stepped on the mat, they had to be ready for a battle."
Rumford also won state titles in 1978 and 1981 and finished first or second in the state 11 of 14 years between 1967-81. The success even drew national attention when Wrestling U.SA. Magazine labeled Rumford "Wrestling Capitol of Maine."
Perkins record speaks for itself and he'll leave a benchmark that all coaches can only strive to attain. In 28 years his over all dual-meet record is 432-73-7, including 100-15 at Mountain Valley.
"I've learned that respect is the cornerstone of the sport,"Lisbon coach Mark Stevens said. "The teams are so fine tuned with skill and discipline. Coach Perkins would say you can have a talented wrestler, but if he doesn't show signs of discipline, respect and coach-ability he will embarrass you and the team."
The continuity in the system is a factor through out the years has contributed to the team' even-flow of remaining competitive. Several 18-hour days are not uncommon, so the support received by parents, school and assistant coaches, Tom Paradis, Costello, Tom Ward, Doug Gilbert, Steve Nokes, Gary Dolloff and Chris Bean, has always been visible.
"It takes a special breed to want to wrestle,"Perkins said. "In order to have coached 28 years, I needed a strong family backing and my wife Joyce has been there. Plus, I was always surrounded by some good people and I'm confident that Gary Dolloff will continue the tradition."