One among the few sportsmen

Out there among the greedy, self-aggrandizing, overgrown children who populate most of today's athletic wasteland there are still a few genuine sportsmen. You just have to look harder to find them nowadays, which makes it more refreshing when you do.

Tom Hutchinson is a good example. Chances are you never heard of Tom before, and never will again. But in terms of what athletic competition is really all about, he and others like him are infinitely more important than all those preening, prancing instant millionaires who clutter up our TV screens.

Hutchinson is the wrestling coach at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J. -- as well as a full-time teacher of math and science and housemaster of a senior dorm. He believes these things all go together.

''We're interested in developing the whole person,'' he told the Monitor in a recent interview. ''A sport doesn't belong in a school if that's not part of it.

''Wrestling and life aren't separate,'' he added. ''If kids don't keep things in the right perspective they just don't do well. You hear stories of choking and getting tight -- that's when people get it out of perspective and it becomes more than a game.

''Also, you have a better chance of doing anything excellently if you're the right kind of person -- if you're honest, and if you love and respect other people.''

There's a widespread school of thought that pooh-poohs such talk, of course, and that prefers the ''nice guys finish last'' philosophy made famous by Leo Durocher. But Hutchinson's record makes a pretty convincing argument that there's more than one way to succeed in the competitive cauldron.

Tom's teams have won the New Jersey state prep school title for nine consecutive years and have gone on to capture the national championship twice ( 1974 and 1981), finish second two other times, and third once. Not surprisingly, in view of such accomplishments, Hutchinson has reaped his share of honors -- topped by his selection as Coach of the Year for 1981 by both Wrestling USA Magazine (a high school award) and the National Wrestling Association (an award that includes both high school and college coaches).

Perhaps an even better indication of a schoolboy wrestling coach's ability than the won-lost standing of his teams is the future success of his charges -- and here, too, Hutchinson has compiled an enviable record.

First there's Mark Lieberman, who won two NCAA championships in the 177-pound class while at Lehigh University, lost to eventual Montreal gold medalist John Peterson in the 1976 Olympic trials, won the 1977 Pan Am championship, and took gold and silver medals the next two years in World Cup competitions among the top wrestlers from the United States, Japan, the Soviet Union, and other countries.

Other Hutchinson proteges who have gone on to fine careers include Kelly Ward , who won one NCAA title and was runner-up twice at Iowa State; Billy Weaver of Lehigh, who was second in the 1979 world championships and made the 1980 US Olympic team; and Eastern champions Randy Miller of Clarion State and Colin Kilrain of Lehigh.

Hutchinson also went to Lehigh, which in addition to its fine academic reputation has one of the nation's top wrestling programs, and he too was successful as a competitor.

''I had done well wrestling in high school, but I had no plans to continue it in college,'' he recalled. ''I kind of had the idea I should outgrow wrestling to get into the real world.

''I didn't even go out for the team my first three years,'' he continued. ''But near the end of my junior year they got short-handed due to injuries. I had just won the intramurals, and they didn't want to forfeit any matches, so they asked me to wrestle in their last meet.''

The guy I wrestled was very good - he had been runner-up in the nationals. He beat me, of course, but it got me interested again. I worked out all summer and made the team the next season.''

Tom didn't make the starting team until the last four meets, and he had a losing record for the season. But things came together for him at the right time, and he won the Eastern 190-pound title and placed sixth in the nationals.

As that 1970-71 season progressed, Hutchinson recalls, he became less sure of what he wanted to do with his life. He had a year of athletic eligibility left, so he dropped one course so as not to graduate in June, then came back for the 1971-72 academic year. He again won the Easterns, but was unplaced this time in the nationals and also failed in a regional tryout for the Olympic team.

It was around this time that he heard about the Blair vacancy and decided to try for it.''

I wondered at first if it would be worthwhile,'' he recalled. ''I asked myself if I was getting into a trivial career - just for fun. But I decided that things aren't mutually exclusive -- that everything goes together. And I felt I could make a contribution at Blair.''

Obviously the young wrestlers who have come under his tutelage agree.''

If I had to pick one individual who made the greatest contribution to my development outside my family, it would be Coach Hutchinson,'' said Lieberman, now an account executive with a New York advertising firm. ''The fundamentals of competition and dedication he instilled in me were what carried me through to those medals and championships -- and the principles he taught me are the ones I want to apply to my job and my life.''

So many coaches get swept up in the moment; they start believing that winning is so crucial. But he taught us the greatest things any high school coach can teach any athlete - to love what we were doing and to do it as well as we could.'

'His teams always have good records, but they could be even better if he wanted that.Instead, he schedules college JV teams, community colleges -- a really tough schedule. He does that because he wants to give his wrestlers a chance to develop to their full potential -- to learn from their mistakes and to push themselves harder.''

When you wrestle for Coach Hutchinson you learn to approach your goals with dedication and commitment, not to worry too much about winning, and not to be afraid to lose - which is what athletic competition is all about at that level and that age.''

Hutchinson knows he has advantages at Blair -- a good environment for athletics without many outside distractions, for instance, plus a winning tradition that keeps attracting top prospects. He doesn't rest on his laurels, however, but is constantly on the go to competitions, clinics, camps, etc. in a continuing effort to keep up with the latest in technique. And he constantly comes back to his strong belief that you can't separate the athletic part from the whole picture.

''I remember a TV interview one time when Pele was asked what advice he'd give to an aspiring soccer player, and he answered: 'First, learn to be a good man.'

''I believe that. Sure, it's easy to say he was probably just trying to influence kids to be good. And undoubtedly that's partly true. But also, I think it's a practical philosophy. It's not only the right way; it's the way that works best.''

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