Jim Poulin served as the defensive coordinator with the Winslow High School football team for several years. If his players thought Poulin was tough on them, he’d recall Wally LaFountain, his football coach at Winslow High.

“I told my players when I was coaching, ‘If you see any pieces of leather in the turf, that’s pieces of my behind coach LaFountain chewed off,'” Poulin said.

LaFountain coached the Black Raiders to the 1958 state championship in his first season at the school. He won again in 1960. LaFountain also built Winslow’s wrestling program, as well as helping to increase wrestling’s popularity across Maine.

Now 92, LaFountain’s life has been one of dedication to coaching and creating opportunity for young athletes. That dedication will be rewarded  on Sunday at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, when LaFountain is inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. LaFountain will enter hall with former Mountain Valley High School and University of Maine basketball standout Andy Bedard, former Maine State Golf Association executive director Nancy Storey, and former Colby College football coach Tom Austin.

It’s recognition LaFountain is happy to accept, even if he finds it a little unnecessary.

“Who doesn’t like to take a bow when he’s done something? I didn’t seek it,” LaFountain said.

A self-described farm boy from Woodstock, Vermont, LaFountain graduated from Springfield College after serving in the infantry at the end of World War II, seeing time in the Hurtgen Forest not long after the Battle of the Bulge. After graduating from Springfield College, he took a job teaching physical education and coaching football in Wellsville, a small town in western New York on the Pennsylvania border.

“The three previous years I was in New York state I won two games. I thought I understood football and thought I could reach kids. I was in over my head in that league. We were the smallest school in the league,” LaFountain said.

In Wellsvile, LaFountain encountered a problem modern coaches are familiar with, parental interference.

“The reason I left was, there was a couple school board members who had kids playing, and you don’t discipline their kid,” he said.

Wellsville was a practice run for the success LaFountain found in Winslow.

“State championship in the first year. Yeah, they thought Wally was pretty good,” LaFountain said.

LaFountain coached football at Winslow High for 11 seasons, finishing with a 51-38-6 record. It was in the development of high school wrestling where LaFountain made his greatest mark on Maine high school sports.

LaFountain discovered wrestling at Springfield through teammates on the football team.

“I thought wrestling was hit him with a chair and throw him out of the ring. Coming from Vermont, what the hell did I know about wrestling? I never wrestled a match in my life,” LaFountain said.

At the time, basketball was king of Maine’s winter high school sports scene. Ice hockey was popular in a few communities, and wrestling was a club or intramural sport if it was offered at all. Sanford had a strong wrestling program, and LaFountain worked with coaches at schools across the state to grow the sport to the point it was recognized by the Maine Principals’ Association. A member of the Maine Wrestling Hall of Fame, LaFountain coached 13 state and two New England champions.

In the mid-1970s, LaFountain took a team of Maine wrestlers to Europe. On the plane, he met coaches from Nebraska and struck up a friendship. A few years later, LaFountain served as the northeast representative on the national high school wrestling rules committee. He reconnected with his Nebraska counterparts, and an idea was hatched. It’s expensive to fly to Europe for matches. What if Maine and Nebraska wrestle each other?

The Maine-Nebraska wrestling series, in which athletes from each state visit the other in alternate years, is now a summer tradition for Maine’s wrestling community.

“I figured, who the hell wants to wrestle Maine? We figured out a way to do it. We’re going out again this summer, and it will be 36 years,” LaFountain said. “All wrestling needed was a promoter, and I’m glad I did it.”

Poulin initially nominated LaFountain for induction in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame three years ago. While it took time, the honor is most deserved, Poulin said.

“He cares so very much about kids, and kids respond to that,” Poulin said. “His players have always felt fondness for him… He’s done so much for the youth, not just of (Winslow), but in the state and beyond that.”

LaFountain became a gym rat at Woodstock High School, when the school built a new gymnasium. He noticed the physical education teachers didn’t dress like other teachers and always seemed to be having fun. That, LaFountain thought, might be a good way to make a living. Looking back at more than 60 years as a teacher and coach, he knows he was right. When he speaks at Sunday’s induction, LaFountain isn’t sure exactly what will come out of his mouth, but it will include a thank you to many people he’s met along the way.

LaFountain recently ran into Jimmy Wood, a former Winslow athlete, who congratulated LaFountain on his impending honor.

“I said ‘You’re a part of it. Without you and all the others, I wouldn’t be standing here.’ My name will be on the trophy, but those guys put it there,” LaFountain said.

At the postseason dinner, no matter the sport, LaFountain liked to ask a question to his athletes. Through all the hard work, no matter the result, did you have fun? Unequivocally, LaFountain can say he had fun.

“I lived what I planned to do,” he said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 


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