MIKE FITZGERALD "Coach Fitz"

HIGH SCHOOL CAREER

    

Mike Fitzgerald, better known as "Fitz" to his wrestlers and the community, was the Hampton Bays High School Varsity Wrestling Coach from 1975-1985 and from 1987-2001. He took a one year sabbatical in 1986-1987. Fitz took the job on a recommendation from his Moorhead State University roommate, Bill Germann. Germann was the first wrestling coach at Hampton Bays from 1972 to 1974 hired by Walter Schumacher, Superintendent of Schools, Hampton Bays, NY.
 

Mike Fitzgerald began his wrestling career at the fabled Mepham High School, Bellmore, NY (Nassau County). Mepham High School wrestling is often referred to as the "cradle of New York State wrestling." The coach of Mepham High School from 1936 to 1958 was the legendary Frank "Sprig" Gardner, also known as "The Father of New York State Wrestling". His coaching record was an astonishing 254-5-1. His teams won 40 tournament titles and 1 co-title. Prior to the New York State tournament being created in 1962-63, there was the Long Island Tournament Championships. Sprig Gardner coached 106 sectional champions. He pioneered the "drill system" as a practice technique, which is used by every wrestling program today. Sprig Gardner attended a clinic hosted by Michael Fitzgerald in Hampton Bays in 1975.
 

"Sprig" Gardner was followed by Ken Hunte who coached Mepham from 1958 to 1976. Hunte compiled an excellent 187-34-2 record and his teams won 10 division team titles, 12 division tournament team championships and 7 Nassau County team championships. Hunte coached 68 division champs, 27 Nassau County Champs and 7 New York State Champions.
 

Mike Fitzgerald, 1965 Nassau County Champion. In addition, he won the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award which was presented by James Grady, Wantagh HS AD


Fitzgerald was one of Coach Hunte's NY State Champions, winning the title in 1965 at 133 lbs.
 

1965, 133 lb NYS PLace-winners, R to L: Champion, Mike Fitzgerald (8-Mepham). 2nd Pl, Mark Payne (4-Sidney). 3rd Pl, Larry Brown (11-Longwood), Brad Sheffler (6-Iroquois)


The results below are from the 1965 NY State Championship Tournament Finals.

3rd Annual NYSPHSAA Inter-Sectional Wrestling Tournament
Ithaca College Physical Education Building, Ithaca, NY, March 6, 1965

Championship Finals

95 - Claude Poole (4-Ithaca) pinned Jim Printup (6-Niagara Wheatfield), 2:32
103 - Ken Melchoir (11-Lindenhurst) dec. Jim Taylor (8-Freeport), 6-5
112 - Eric Watts (9-Suffern) dec. Bill Germann (8-Wantagh), 2-1
120 - John Walter (8-Calhoun) dec. Dennis Wright (4-Homer), 10-1
127 - Richard New (3-Canastota) dec. John Shattuck (2-Shaker), 2-0
133 - Mike Fitzgerald (8-Mepham) dec. Mark Payne (4-Sidney), 9-1
138 - Rich Koenig (3-Sherburne-Earlville) dec. Lloyd Jerauld (4-Sidney), 9-4
145 - John Sorochinsky (4-Union-Endicott) dec. Dale Wettlaufer (6-Orchard Park), 16-3
154 - Claude Shaw (4-Sidney) dec. Joe Goonan (11-Deer Park), 6-3
165 - Ken Haynes (4-Horseheads) dec. Robert Reiber (8-Massapequa), 6-2
180 - Noel Kobia (4-Sidney) dec. Joe Ferraro (3-Frankfort-Schuyler), 7-1
Hwt - Jerry Beach (4-Ithaca) dec. Sylvester Huggins (2-Mt. Pleasant), 8-1
Unl - Doug Smith (4-Dryden) dec. George Carta (11-East Islip), DFLT 3:59

Fitzgerald's high school wrestling resume also includes:

 

-South Shore Athletic League Champion (2 years)
-Section VIII Champion and Most Outstanding wrestler in 1965.
-Lindenhurst Invitational Champion
-Junior Metropolitan AAU Champion
-Senior Metropolitan AAU Champion

 

Mepham High School wrestling room plaque
 


MIKE FITZGERALD'S HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING CAREER RECORD
 

YEAR
1963
1964
1965
Total

CLASS
Soph
Jr
Sr

WIN
07
16
24
47

WT
133
133
133

 

LOSS
5
2
0
7

TIE
0
1
1
2

TOURNAMENTS
2nd Pl: SSAL
1st Pl: SSAL, 2nd Pl Section 8
1st Pl: SSAL, 1st Pl Section 8 (OW), 1st Pl NY State

 

COLLEGE WRESTLING

 

Mike Fitzgerald attended Moorhead State University in Minnesota from 1965-1969 where he was an All American (4th Place) at 145 lbs in 1969.  His other collegiate awards were NSIC Champion in 1968 at 137 lbs and 4th place in the 1967 NAIA Championships at 145 lbs.

Mike Fitzgerald getting back points during a match at Moorhead State

 

Champion of the 1968 Northern Sun Tourney

 

Mike Fitzgerald, 1969 CW Post Tournament Champion

 

Moorhead State wrestling team. Top Row (L to R): Coach Bill Garland, Bob Hall, Marv Gunderson, U/K, Lary Lundberg, Bottom Row (L to R): John Morley, Bill Germann, Harris Shellito, Rick Stuyvessant, Mike Fitzgerald

COACHING CAREER

SUFFOLK COUNTY-SECTION XI PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL
VARSITY WRESTLING COACHES ALL-TIME WINS LIST
1) 436, Lou Giani, Huntington & Eastern Military Academy

2) 341, Jack Mahoney, Sachem & Sachem North

3) 335, Chris Messina, Hauppauge

4) 312, Tony Mellino, West Islip

5) 298, Bill DeSario, Commack & Babylon

6) 263, Norm Maisel, Amityville

7) 262, Bill Santoro, Connetquot

8) 258, Bob Armstrong, Port Jefferson & Westhampton Beach

9) 252, Joe Campo, Brentwood (Ross)

10) 251, Joe Patrovich, Islip, (East Meadow, Levittown Divsion,
& Plainview JFK)

11) 241, Walt Stewart, Riverhead

12) 239, Sal DiFazio, Half Hollow Hills East

13) 233, Ed Luksik, Deer Park

14) 224, Robin Winkel, Rocky Point, (Levittown Division,
& Central Islip)

15) 208, John Szokoli, Harborfields

16) 205, Mike Fitzgerald, Hampton Bays & Southampton

17) 199, Mike Picozzi, Longwood (& Walt Whitman)

18) 194, Cliff Clark, Bay Shore

19) 184, Paul Bass, Westhampton Beach

20) 181, Joe Valla, Amityville


Compiled by Andy Slawson for Long Island Wrestling Association (2010).

The coach commanding the wrestling room in 1980.
 

THE COACH

Mike Fitzgerald had many strengths as a coach.  In addition to having great knowledge of the sport, he was a passionate and inspirational speaker, a master motivator and a master psychologist. Coach Fitzgerald was tough inside the wrestling room and compassionate outside of it.  He once took in a wrestler from a broken family to live with his family. In addition, he purchased clothing for those in need.  His home was open to all and many nights were spent sweating out pounds next to the wood stove after a run.  He drove us everywhere in his green Ford pickup; tournaments, scrimmages and summer camp.  During road trips it was a privilege being one of a few to sit "shot-gun" in his truck and listen to him talk about his philosophy on life.  His talks always left you with the feeling that nothing in life is impossible! He made you feel special, but little did you know, everyone to him was special!  Being a product of the great Mepham teams, he believed drilling technique was the best way to learn how to react on the mat.  Drilling is the constant practice or repetition of technique which reinforces learning. Drilling took up the majority of each practice and there were many types of drills that he implemented; from shooting a single leg take-down to the continuity drill.  Coach Fitz was always up to speed with technique in the wrestling world.  We drilled them all in the 1970's and 1980's; the "Granby" series, the "Russian", and the many ways of using the legs.  There was not one move we did not drill.  Knowing what it took to win the states, our practices were not for the faint of heart!  Fitz had no tolerance for lack of effort.  He was a general in the wrestling room, wearing his rubber suit top, 3/4 bottom, clock in his hand while barking out instructions.  Each drill would commence and end with his sharp, high pitched whistle!  He preached; if you worked hard in practice the match will be easy!
 

Fitz demonstrating technique during
practice in the late 1980's.

 

A typical day in the 70's & 80's during the season went like this: Fitz opened the gym at 6 am for a "voluntary" morning workout consisting of weight training and running. After school, practice was from 2:30 pm-5 pm. After dinner we would meet in front of his house for a run. 

Coach Fitzgerald was also ahead of his time when it came to losing weight.  He never encouraged his wrestlers to lose weight beyond excess fat.  He encouraged us to drink lots, I mean lots of water after practice.  In the beginning of the week he would instruct us to drink 1 (ONE) gallon of water at night!  He believed in good nutrition and by eating less calories to lose weight, not by skipping a meal.  A diet plan was distributed to each wrestler each season that included three meals daily.  Everyone was informed of the proper way to lose weight.  One of the biggest mistakes a wrestler could make on a Mike Fitzgerald team was not to make weight.  That almost was a death sentence!

His effort to the program was tireless and though he would get ornery at times, his enthusiasm endless!  He provided every opportunity to improve our skills. The majority of his day was dedicated to coaching his wrestlers.  During the off season he ran the kid wrestling program.  He also had open mats at the high school during the summer months to keep our skills sharp and each year he drove us to the Pocono's for summer camp. To quote what Westhampton Beach High School wrestling coach Paul Bass once said, "Michael Fitzgerald was Hampton Bays wrestling!"

 

Sprig Gardner Clinic at Hampton Bays, circa 1974

(Sprig Gardner in the white T-shirt, Fitz standing at left)

Every year Coach Fitzgerald would honor the parents of each wrestler with a Parents Night.  Fitz presented each mom with a corsage and the parents would sit in a special section at the side of the mat.  Prior to the match Fitz would read the following poem:


The Lament of a Wrestler's Mom By Mrs. Paul (Connie) Krueger, St James, Minnesota
 

There's my son-- so young and strong.

Surely doesn't seem so long

since I rocked him in my arms,

so small and easily kept from harm.

Then one day he said, right out ....

"wrestling's what it's all about!

I will have to watch my weight.

All of your goodies will have to wait!"

So, I thought....what can this be?

This wrestling that's replacing me.

Why, those wrestlers on TV,

they're as mean as they can be!

My poor son will be a wreck.

He'll hurt his knee or break his neck!

No! I thought... this mustn't be!

But did I say it!  No... not me.

I fixed poached eggs and toast and meat,

and bit my lip when he'd retreat

From the table without a taste

of that luscious cake. Dear! What a waste!

Then he'd come with a long lean pole

and weights at the end.  For it's his goal

to put on inches.. increase his strength

and you know, I think it stretches his length.

How the house would shake and quake

with each deep breath and lift he'd make.

But did I holler... "Save the house!

"No, not me. I was quiet as a mouse.

And how about this mate of mine?

This wrestler's Dad... Was he inclined

to wake me up and say, "Enough!

This wrestling business is too tough!

"Oh my, no... He'd sit and grin,

Puff out his chest when he looked at him,

and say to me as his eyes filled,

"That kid of ours has quite a build!"

So you see, I lost the fight.

And felt quite badly, until that night.

That night, his first time on the team.

I couldn't help but sit and beam!

To see him stand, all dressed and ready.

My hands were wet, my heart was beating.

Oh, please, I prayed, let time be fleeting!

The other fellow looked so tall.

He should be playing basketball!

The referee his whistle blew.

I couldn't look, for I just knew

that some great dread calamity

would soon descend and pinned he'd be.

But say, what's this? They gave him two.

What it was for, I never knew.

But my, he really did quite well.

In fact, quite great to hear Dad tell.

Oh, the tension and the straining!

All the blood from my head draining!

Six minutes long I agonized,

and shook my head in sheer surprise

when they raised his hand.. it's done...he's won!

HEY EVERYBODY....THAT'S MY SON!
 

Brothers, Bill Fitzgerald (Sayville) & Mike Fitzgerald at the 1982 Sayville Holiday Tournament

NATIONAL WRESTLING HALL OF FAME

For his many years of excellence in the sport of wrestling as a wrestler and coach, Mike Fitzgerald was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.
 

National Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Dinner

Marriott Hotel, Melville, NY

April 29, 2011, 8 pm

Inductees: Mike Davey, Mike Fitzgerald, Paul Kieblesz, Bill Knapp, Terry Phelan and Fred Recher


Mike Fitzgerald's Induction speech: Hi, my name is Mike Fitzgerald, but most of you know me by Fitz or Coach Fitz. It is an honor to be here tonight being named to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. I want to thank everyone for voting for me and feeling that I deserve such a great honor. A special thanks goes out to the boys of Hampton Bays that made my job fun and challenging. Because of their hard work and dedication they made me the coach that you are honoring today. Also thanks to them for showing up and honoring me. I want to thank John Tobin for all of his help.
 

I also need to thank wrestling for making me the man I am today. Wrestling has taught me that hard work equals success no matter what. I have found out that the harder I worked the larger my successes are.  Coaching wrestling for thirty plus years I hope that I have taught the same thing to those that have wrestled for me. Winning is very important to a competitive person but the wins may not be in out scoring your opponents but in the lessons they learned along the way.  I had a stroke 5 years ago and that hard work ethic has even paid off there. If I did not believe in hard work I might not be standing here reading this speech. I might not have even been able to walk up to this podium.


A special thanks goes out to my wife Toby and my three children, Allison, Keith and Todd for standing by me through thick and thin. My Mom and Dad for teaching me morality. My eight brothers and sisters for supporting me. Bob Emmons and Richard McGuckin for all the years helping me build the wrestling program. My junior high wrestling coach Spence Zuckermann for teaching me the basics. Sprig Gardner for all of his encouragement. Coach Ken Hunte for taking me under his wing and teaching me the ropes as both a wrestler and a coach. Don Jackson for wrestling with me when I was in High School. The wrestlers and coaches that have treated me with respect. And that teacher that once said I would never go to college and me having to prove her wrong.

2011 National Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Banquet.
Mike Fitzgerald, Inductee
 

THE MIKE FITZGERALD TROPHY

In March, 2017, the Suffolk County Wrestling Coaches Association voted that the Section XI, Suffolk County Wrestling Division 2 championship team trophy will now be called The Mike Fitzgerald Trophy.
 

THE MIKE FITZGERALD WRESTLING ROOM

Hampton Bays High School
Hampton Bays, NY  11946

Dedication Ceremony January 6, 2015 at 5 pm
Hampton Bays High School Auditorium

 

Under the leadership of Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemenson, Athletic Director Drew Walker, the Hampton Bays Booster Club and with the assistance of the Hampton Bays Wrestling Alumni; John Tobin, Joe Villareale, Tony Villareale, Craig Mielenhausen, Jason Schoerlin & Matt Forrest, the high school wrestling room was refurbished and dedicated to Mike Fitzgerald in a ceremony in the Hampton Bays Auditorium. 

CEREMONY SPEAKERS 

John Tobin, class of 1981

Ben Hill, class of 1976

Tony Villareale, class of 1983

Nick Mancuso, class of 1994

WRESTLING ROOM DEDICATION PHOTOS

Karen Goodman, Mike Fitzgerald & Stu Goodman (78)

Mike Fitzgerald & Ben Hill

Hampton Bays Auditorium congratulating Mike Fitzgerald

Ribbon cutting ceremony: L to R: U/K, Mike Fitzgerald, HBAD Drew Walker, U/K, Booster Club President Monika Straka & Booster Club member Kevin Springer

Sign was donated by the Hampton Bays Booster Club

Mike Fitzgerald's motto for the program from 1975-2001

Jerry Seckler, President of the Friends of LI Wrestling, presented Hampton Bays High School with a duplicate copy of Mike Fitzgerald's National Wrestling Hall of Fame plaque

The Hampton Bays varsity wrestling team, Mike Fitzgerald & the wrestling alumni after the varsity wrestling's team 54-27 win over Center Moriches on Mike Fitzgerald Day.

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