In the sporting culture, legendary coaches tend to be accompanied by equally legendary quotes. Yogi Berra had his “Yogi-isms,” while the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden and Vince Lombardi all had their own philosophic musings.
Doug Parker is no different.
Esteemed members of the Springfield College wrestling community gathered in the Doug Parker Wrestling Room on Saturday, Feb. 27 to celebrate the 90th birthday of the room’s namesake. Stories of the past were told, while old friends had the chance to re-kindle and re-hash, but one statement found itself repeated over and over: “keep smiling.”
Out of context, those two phrases don’t necessarily carry too much weight. But for the close friends and former athlete of the former Springfield College head wrestling coach, those phrases were synonymous with his character.
As Bill Hillman, class of 1981 and former wrestler explained, Parker’s friendliness was one of his three main characteristics.
“People love him because he’s friendly,” Hillman said. “And that’s rubbed off on us. He’s always saying, ‘keep smiling’.”
Hillman closed his speech out by adding the two other characteristics that define Parker; he encouraged others, and he was always supportive.
“Former Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnik, who trained under Coach Parker while he was here, has a quote that whenever he mentioned Parker’s name, the first thing people would do is smile. That in it of itself speaks volumes,” said Director of Athletics Craig Poisson.
If one was to assemble a “Mt. Rushmore” of former Springfield College coaches, Parker would be an easy candidate to have a spot. A graduate of Springfield College (’51), Parker was in charge of the wrestling program from 1956 to 1990. His 472 wins rank first all time in school history. The second spot belongs to Daryl Arroyo (301 wins), Parker’s successor and protégé.
“Incredible legacy here that he left, and that has been added to by the people that he trained,” Poisson said. “Coach Arroyo trained under Parker, and then became a 20-year coach here himself. [Parker] is the consummate teacher-coach. Truly a giant in the world of collegiate wrestling.”
The Parker Wrestling Room was transformed into a Springfield College wrestling archive on Saturday. The walls were lined with photos from Parker’s time as coach – dating all the way back to his first season in 1956.
Alumni piled in and you couldn’t walk five feet without overhearing a story from Parker’s coaching days.
“It is amazing how the wrestling community turns out when Coach Parker is involved,” vice president for development and alumni relations John White said as he opened the event.
Scott Lewis (’80) took to the podium following Hillman, and following an entertaining speech – which started with him lifting himself up onto the podium and doing a handstand – he closed by stating that Parker created “champions of life” and he was always making the big world feel small.
Tom Lecusa, a former wrestling captain, came to speak after Lewis. Before he led the room in signing “Happy Birthday” and before the cake was brought out, he presented his former coach with a gift. It was a grey polo shirt, with the Springfield College logo on the left breast. On the other, it said “Springfield College, Coach Parker.”
On the sleeves, it read “keep smiling.”