DIXFIELD — There is not much that Doug Gilbert and Dr. Tom Ward haven’t experienced in the sport of wrestling.

Gilbert, the current Dirigo wrestling coach, and Ward have truly gained respect throughout the wrestling community, and their efforts and sacrifices haven’t gone unnoticed. They will be inducted in the Maine Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame this summer. They will be joined by Maynard Pelletier, Jon Kane and Rusty Smith.

”I love to see kids succeed,” Gilbert said. ”Not just winning a state championship (although that’s a goal), but sometimes just winning a match. I look back at each kid I had on the team this year and I can pick out one match or one tournament where they succeeded. That’s what keeps me going, the smiles, the jubilation, and sometimes just a little fist pump. Yeah, it’s definitely worth it.”

For both coaches, it was baptism under fire when they joined the coaching ranks. They also recognized how much hard work and dedication was required to reach the next level. Gilbert was an assistant coach on the 1981 Rumford state championship team, while Ward was an assist coach on the 1978 Rumford state championship team. The common theme was they tutored under legendary Hall of Fame coach Jerry Perkins.

”(Doug) has a tremendous work ethic,”Perkins said, ”He has an inside drive and desire to succeed that is difficult to match. His competitiveness and desire to win is fierce to say the least. Doug’s knowledge of the intense sport of wrestling is unparalleled in my opinion.”

Ward was offered an interim position at Rumford in the fall of 1977 right out of college, serving as a physical education instructor,

”He was a hit in the school system right from the start because of his tremendous dedication, hard work, and yet easy going demeanor,” Perkins said of Ward. ”Now, I have to mention that I was most impressed with his wrestling background and personal knowledge of man’s oldest sport.”

Gilbert, a Rumford native, was initially introduced to wrestling as a freshman at the 1971 state meet held in Rumford. The stage obviously became ingrained because Gilbert and the Panthers won three-straight Class A state championships, 1972-1974.

”(We) had to keep in shape for the football season,” Gilbert said. ”After I got into it my sophomore year, it was my teammates that kept me there. Gary Oldham, Steve DeFillip, Dave Magoon, Dino Sciraffia, Jeff and Glenn Gurney, and who could forget (assistant coach) Tom Paradis. Guys that I still keep in touch with.”

Gilbert competed at 167-pounds his sophomore and junior years, but was destined to move in to uncharted territory. Perkins convinced Gilbert, who weighed 185, that going unlimited (when it was truly unlimited) was the best for the team.

”My cousin Butch was at that (185) weight class also,”Gilbert said, sixth member of 1974 Rumford team in MAWA HOF. ”I had my doubts, especially when the first match my senior year, Rudy Gudroe from Dexter, 280 pounds. Ouch. I beat him and the rest of the bigger guys.”

The lone loss was to Kevin Gilmore (Hall of Famer) in the 1974 state finals. Gilbert wrestled at Maine Maritime Academy and avenged the set back by beating Gilmore in the Northern New England competition.

Then scheduling conflicts, shipping out as a Merchant Marine and earning an MBA in 1992 kept Gilbert away from coaching.

In September of 1992, Glen Gurney asked Gilbert to be an assistant coach at Dirigo when Hal Watson (Hall of Famer) stepped down. Gurney stepped away after Dirigo won the 1996 Class C state championship, and Gilbert was elevated to varsity and has scripted everything.

Since 1997, Cougar teams have finished first or second in every regional; including winning 2007 Class C state meet. Gilbert has coached two dozen state champions.

”Kids that wrestle are still the same,” Gilbert said. ”I’d like to think they are better wrestlers (techniques) and less brawlers. We’ve been lucky at Dirigo, there is a culture, a history of good wrestling and the kids want to be part of that. You have to work harder or be left, we need to do what it takes to keep up or get left in the dust.”

Ward initially made his mark on the wrestling mat by winning an individual Maine high school wrestling championship at 155 pounds for Mt. Blue, in 1972. Ward went on to compete at University of Maine, won a New England Championship as a freshman and was co-captain as a senior.

Ward was especially good with his “cradle” technique and personal experience, which was an asset when he returned as head coach at Mt. Blue.

”That was a great experience,” Ward said, regarding his time at Rumford. ”I learned what it took to build a championship team from Jerry Perkins.”

Within two years, Ward had built a competitive program at Mt. Blue in wrestling and became a powerhouse by winning back-to-back state championships in 1983 and 1984. Ward was named wrestling coach of the year after both of those championships.

Ward was encouraged to go into administration, beginning with being the athletic director for Mt. Blue and the following year as assistant principal and AD.

”It was those years that convinced me of the importance and value of participating in co/extra-curricular activities,”Ward said. ”Through athletics I learned the value of hard work, discipline, collaboration goal setting and how to be a leader.”

Ward is currently the superintendent of RSU 10, has earned a B.S. in education, masters in educational administration, and doctorate in educational leadership. The Temple resident has been named to lead RSU 9 in the same role.

Ward has worn numerous hats throughout a storied career in education, and that is why he’s such a strong supporter of any programs that teach these and hook students into schools. Ward firmly believes that someday he will return to coaching.

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