Sunday, July 10, 2005

Hall of Fame Inductee: Dennis Bishop - CONTRIBUTATOR

Always humble, but certainly passionate, the 56-year-old Bath Iron Works electrical designer. In a nutshell, Dennis's career (which we will expand on later) has covered more than three decades of coaching and officiating and umpteen hours of counseling, encouraging and molding the wrestling youth of Maine. "His list of accomplishments is endless," said longtime (and former) Morse High School head coach Jim Coffin. "There are so many communities and so many schools Dennis has been involved with. "And the thing with Dennis is that he always does things with integrity, always trying to do the right thing. Very humble but always trying to find the right way to resolve a problem in the best interest of everyone." Integrity. Commitment. Humility. Passion. Energy. Tradition. These are words that those in the know throw out every time Dennis Bishop'ss name is brought up. Wrote Bob McPhee, a longtime Lewiston Sun Journal wrestling beat writer and Class of 2000 Hall inductee: "For the past four decades, wrestling has been ingrained in Bishop and he has earned a great deal of respect. It has become second nature, that any activity Bishop is involved with will be accomplished with integrity. Since his humble beginnings as a wrestler at Biddeford High School, Bishop has worn a number of different hats. This continues even today as one of the top referees in the entire state." And if you sit down to examine Dennis Bishop'ss sporting life you will see the interaction with other wrestling aficionados, like the late Gary Kent, Reese, Coffin, Keith Lancaster and Dennis Walch. "Jim Coffin and Keith Lancaster are two individuals who had a profound effect upon my coaching style. Two very classy men who could compete intensely while still being total gentlemen."

Tiny and slow

Dennis Bishop'ss story begins with failed introductions to Little League and basketball as a Biddeford youth. You name it, Dennis flunked it. "I was small, I was only 82 pounds going into high school. And I didn'st have a sliver of confidence." In the early 1960s, Dennis became acquainted with several coaches "who basically helped me to believe in myself." One such individual was Blaine Turner, a friend of Dennis's brother Roland Pelletier. A fast friendship evolved while Dennis learned the power of weightlifting.  "That was the beginning of it right there."  Frank Pictou, a full-blooded Native American, taught Dennis and his friends about various sports and most importantly, sportsmanship, which became Dennis's trademark down through the years. In high school, Dennis yearned for the chance to compete. Football was out of the question, what with two severely broken wrists and a heart murmur casting some doubt on his athletic capability. Luckily his family doctor encouraged Dennis to compete, saying that he would outgrow his heart condition. "Boy, was the guy ever right." He settled on cross country. The very first time Dennis ran a mile he stopped six times. "Not only was I small but I was slow." But Joe Plamondon, the Biddeford High School coach, was there to pick up the pieces. "I don'st know if he'sll ever know the impact he had on me. He was the first coach who really showed the confidence in me and made me feel good about myself." By the end of the season he was running the courses ragged.  Up next was wrestling. "And whatever got me to go out for wrestling to this day I just don'st know."  The coach there was Neil "Ziggy" Serpico. Another impact mentor.

Believing in himself

Dennis remembers the first time he got on the scales and the look on Serpico'ss face because the Biddeford coach just knew he had a true 95-pounder (lightest weight class at that time) for the next four years. "I was tiny, I was small, and I didn'st have a fiber of muscle because I was still developing. But Mr. Serpico was always bubbling over with enthusiasm and I think that caught on with his athletes. "Those guys really made me believe in myself and that is what coaching is all about. Your successes in sports aren'st all that important - it'ss what you take from that and bring it to life that is." Though he had limited athletic success his four years at Biddeford, Dennis persevered and eventually kept competing while a student at Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute (now Southern Maine Community College). He actually set school cross country records in his three years and wrestled as an "unattached" 136-pounder up and down the East coast. Lessons were always learned, which helped shape his coaching career. Heck, it shaped just who Dennis Bishop is - someone you want by your side whether coaching, reffing or spectating. "Although I never won a major title of any kind, it was the experiences I had through those years that instilled within me a deep and profound respect for the sport of wrestling." Tim Agwar, a former high school teammate, ended up back in Biddeford after graduating from Boston University and took over an abandoned wrestling program. On a chance meeting, the two agreed Dennis would make a standout assistant, despite a dearth of coaching experience. And guess what? A year later the then-20-year-old Dennis became head coach. Wrestling books were bought and he constantly picked the brains of fellow coaches. "I made every mistake in the book and I invented a few new ones. I did everything wrong that you possibly could in the handling of kids." What followed were high school coaching stints at Kennebunk, Hyde, Mt. Ararat and Morse. At Mt. Ararat, Dennis was named Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. A career highlight included his salad days with the York County Athletic Club from 1976-78. With wrestlers from all over the state, Bishop'ss boys never lost a dual meet. "We dominated the New England tournament scene to the point that Massachusetts barred us from their events. Perhaps the proudest accomplishment for the YCAC was to come in third place as a team at the 1977 National Championships. The amazing part of this feat was that we only had six wrestlers competing. The two states ahead of us, Minnesota and Oregon, had full 33-man squads."  That meet, Eon was named Outstanding Wrestler and Maine'ss Ric Allain and Bishop were selected Outstanding Coaches. Although coaching was his first love, he also got into officiating - those same guys also encouraged that in the mid-1970s as well - which helped him later when he decided just to officiate, thus freeing up time to help raise his son Brian.  He'ss never looked back, but he never lost touch with either mat avocation. "Part of it was the people I was involved with, the great friendships that were being formed with those guys and a lot of other people when you think about all the wrestlers, parents and so forth down through the years. The big part of it for me has been the friendships."

Influences on Dennis

He has coached for and coached against umpteen wrestlers down through the years but it'ss the lesser-talented ones that have left their ubiquitous marks in Dennis's heart. "Some of the individuals whom I had the greatest amount of respect for and was most inspired by were not always the most successful wrestlers I coached. They often were the wrestlers who did not have the God-given talent or ability of some of their teammates. Yet, they came to practice every day, worked their tails off, and always challenged the better wrestlers in the wrestle-offs, even when they knew in their hearts what the result was going to be.  Young men like Danny Noyes from Kennebunk, who never wrestled a varsity match until the very last match of his career. Roger Dionne from Marshwood and the YCAC, who battled constantly and never gave up. Dan Wilson from Mt. Ararat, maybe not the most gifted wrestler, but every bit the heart of a champion. My own son, Brian, who in spite of having to face a far superior, more talented wrestler, found it within himself to challenge this individual at every wrestle-off. And last, but not least, one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me has always been Bob McPhee, the epitome of overcoming adversity. These are the kinds of people that have truly inspired me through my coaching career and I believe in many ways made me the coach that I am."  Listen to former Mt. Ararat standout Chuck Alexander, who wrestled under Dennis. "Dennis has commented on more then one occasion that what he values most about his involvement with wrestling are the friendships he has made," said Alexander, a huge proponent of youth wrestling. "That his door is always open to his wrestlers past and present. Those aren'st simply words he says to sound good. He truly means that, as I have personally found out. When I was in my early 20s I was struggling with a lot of things with my life. Not sure of where my place was in the world at that time, and very uncertain about which direction to head to find it. "I went over to his house and talked about some of what was going on with me," explained Alexander. "He had no sage or profound words of advice that turned things around for me instantly. He did, however, listen, encourage and give me some hope that things would eventually start unfolding for me - which they eventually did. Abilities and qualities that it seems today, can be rare to find in a coach."

It will be his day

As the days tick down to the Hall ceremony, he can'st help but think ahead. This will be Dennis Bishop'ss Day. "I have been thinking of it lately. My wife (Marianne) asked me that the other day. She asked if I was getting anxious and I said 'sYeah, in fact, I'sm getting a little nervous.'s It'ss different than being up there on the podium as the MAWA president and kicking the thing off. Now it'ss going to be emotional."  The Hall of Fame thing is BIG and Dennis Bishop is fully aware of his place in Maine wrestling history. Want further proof? The MAWA president from 1996-2003, Dennis was also selected as USA Wrestling'ss "Man of the Year" for Maine in 1998. "He taught us how to wrestle the RIGHT way," lauded Alexander. "By that I mean technically, physically and morally."  "I am so honored and so humbled to be part of this group of people I can'st begin to express how I feel. It is wrestling-wise the greatest honor of my life. To be put in the same group with Gary Kent, Jim Coffin, Ted Reese and people like that. And not to mention the wrestlers like Bob Eon and Kevin Gilmore ... And I don'st have any intention of getting out of this anytime soon.  "There are a lot of new faces in the sport - especially in the coaching and officiating ranks but that'ss not a bad thing. In a lot of cases they'sve come from great backgrounds, and in some cases they need to learn. And they will. Hopefully people such as myself can be involved with that help because there were people there for me when I first started." Alexander also likes to tell the story about the time he and Dennis were talking about Smith, a current Hall of Fame member and Maine wrestling legend. "Dennis commented on how he hoped that people might remember and appreciate him the way they did John," recalled Alexander. "I'sll just say that John Smith is John Smith. But I hope people think of Dennis Bishop for what he is: the most selfless, sincere and dedicated person that it has been my pleasure to have learned from in this, the greatest and oldest sport." Let's let Coffin sum it up: "I can'st think of one flaw about Dennis. He is one of the most respected men in the sport and no one has done more for the sport of wrestling. No one."