Friday, May 30, 2008

Perkins set to share Hall glory

By ERNIE CLARK, Special to the BDN

Hall of Fame honors typically involve great achievement in the major spectator sports that result in public name recognition, or in Olympic endeavors or the most popular of spectator sports.
When Jerry Perkins accepts induction into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in Portland on Sunday, he’ll be representing the other guys.
Perkins, a Brewer native who now lives in Orrington, has his share of the traditional credentials – particularly as a 192-pound tackle on the 1965 University of Maine football team that played in the Tangerine Bowl.
But the legacy that has earned him a place among the state’s top sports figures resides not on the gridiron, but on the mat.
Perkins was one of the state’s premier high school wrestling coaches during a 24-year career in Rumford, first at Stephens High School, then at Rumford High, and finally at the current Mountain Valley High School.
And while the individual nature of a Hall of Fame induction is gratifying, Perkins will accept it just as much for the extra exposure it provides a sport that typically rewards only the toughest and most tenacious.
“From what I understand I’m the first wrestling coach to be inducted, so the fact this gives recognition to the sport of high school wrestling is what I’m most proud of first and foremost,” said Perkins.
Perkins acquired his appreciation for the sport by circumstance rather than by design, as his connection with wrestling before becoming a head coach in 1967 was limited to an intramural program during his senior year at Brewer High and a college course he took at Maine.
But after landing a job as a teacher and an assistant football coach at Stephens High at the recommendation of his Maine line coach, Walter Abbott, Perkins soon learned the school’s fledgling wrestling program had a coaching vacancy, and he jumped at the opportunity.
“I just wanted to be a head coach,” he said.
What followed was the emergence of Rumford High School as one of the premier wrestling programs in the state – status that remains unchanged nearly four decades later at Mountain Valley, which formed from the merger of Rumford and Mexico high schools.
Perkins applied an old-school coaching style to an old-school sport, leading his teams to five Class A state titles and an overall dual-meet record of 472-73-7.
“I was pretty demanding,” he said, “but the kids responded well. We worked on the basics, and the kids worked their tails off during practice.”
Perkins admits coaching styles have changed since he coached at Rumford from 1970 to 1988 and at Mountain Valley from the 1994-95 season through 2001.
But what Perkins learned about the nature of wrestling and wrestlers back then remains largely the same.
“It’s a tough sport,” he said. “There’s hand-to-hand combat involved, and when a kid goes out on the mat he has nobody to blame but himself. Wrestling is very demanding.”
That’s a big reason wrestling likely will remain a niche sport both in the Maine high school ranks and beyond, but it’s also a big reason Perkins will relish the opportunity to give his sport some Hall of Fame recognition Sunday.
For not only will he represent himself during his acceptance speech, but also other legendary coaches such as Sanford’s John Caramihalis and Belfast’s Ted Heroux – not to mention all of the “other guys,” the many wrestlers who have persevered through this most challenging of sports to experience success in whatever way they measure it.