UConn Basketball Coach Leads Staples Wreckers

Jim Calhoun made headlines yesterday.  It was easy:  The $1.6 million-a-year University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach returned to the bench following a 23-day health-related leave of absence.

What’s that have to do with “06880”?  After all, Staples’ best player in years — John Baumann — ended up at Columbia University, not Storrs.  The Wreckers are not known for producing Husky hoopsters — or any Big East players, in fact.

George Wigton

Long before Calhoun, UConn was led by another legendary coach: Hugh Greer.  He died at age 60 of a heart attack, in the middle of the 1962-63 season.  His place was taken by assistant basketball coach George Wigton.

Wigton led the Huskies to an 11-4 record, the Yankee Conference championship, and the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament.  His reward?  His contract was not renewed.

So he went to Staples High School.  He served for 1 year as basketball coach (and assistant football coach), before heading to Bates College.

Wigton remained at the Maine school for 30 years.  When he retired in 1996, as the revered coach of men’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s squash — and assistant director of athletics — Bates named a scholar-athlete award in his  honor.  Last fall he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.

George Wigton’s Westport year is just a footnote in a storied career.  Few UConn basketball fans have heard of him — hey, they don’t even remember Hugh Greer.

But on a weekend when Jim Calhoun returns to action, and basketball fans are thinking about the Olympic-size spectacle known as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s nice to recall a time when the UConn basketball coach made a pit stop on the Staples sidelines.

2 responses to “UConn Basketball Coach Leads Staples Wreckers

  1. George Wigton saved me from being battered into very small pieces. In the spring of ’64, fresh from UConn, he yanked me from spring football practice interior line drills and said, “You’re an end from now on; come with me.” My days as a 175-pound tackle concluded, I went gladly. We were blessed that spring with George Wigton’s arrival. All of us were aware of his UConn background. The NCAA tournament had just 24 teams back then and UConn had been one of them. Coach Wigton was joined that spring by another college coach, Leon Blackburn, head football coach of UVa who was on a recruiting trip (he’d snag our all-state end Bill Matthes for the Cavaliers the next year) and coached us for a few practices, assisting Paul Lane. I can’t recall George Wigton’s exact duties as asst football coach with us but I remember that he seemed to spend most of his time with the offensive and defensive ends. He was energetic, animated, empathetic, determined, persistant and, yes, kind. In short, I recall George Wigton as one of the best coaches I ever had at any level anywhere. In basketball, Coach Wigton’s one Staples season bridged the gap between the long tenures of Albie Loeffler and Brian Kelly. He produced an aggressive. scrappy — and winning — team paced by Dale Hopkins, Jeff Hall, Buz Leavitt, Doug Bush and Charlie Joyner. The students at Bates were as fortunate to have him for 30 years as we were to have him for just one.

  2. Linda Gramatky Smith

    I went off to Bates College from 1960-64 and graduated a year before George Wigton arrived on campus. What a legacy he left in those 30 years (coaching not just basketball but men’s soccer, men’s and women’s squash and women’s tennis). I arrived back on campus in 1998, two years after he retired, when I was a member of the Board of Trustees. Darn, we never overlapped, but I love hearing about the “Westport connection”! Thanks, Dan.