Saul Pollack — remembered by many Staples High School graduates as a very successful wrestling and football coach, and popular physical education teacher, and many other residents as the longtime owner of Harry’s Wine & Liquor Store in Fairfield — died last week, at Regional Hospice in Danbury. He was 85 years old.
The Bridgeport native was the only son of Harry and Betty Pollack. He grew up in Fairfield, graduated from Roger Ludlowe High School, and worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College in 1960, and a master’s from the University of Bridgeport a year later.
Saul was hired to teach in Westport. At the same time, he joined the Army Reserves.
As head of the Staples wrestling team, he built a program that won several FCIAC and state championships. He was also an assistant football coach.
While teaching in Westport, Saul met 1st grade teacher Anne Gardner. They married in 1965. The couple moved to Wilton and had 3 children.
In 1978 Saul left teaching and took over the package store his father had opened in 1941. Over the next 33 years he expanded the business enormously.
After retiring in 2011 Saul enjoyed playing golf, vacationing on Cape Cod and Sanibel Island, and visiting with his children and grandchildren.
Saul is survived by his wife Anne; his sons, Scott (Millie) of Fairfield and David (Alex) of Fishers Island, New York; daughter Kira (Douglas) Friedman of New York City, and grandchildren Mia, Anthony, Arlo and Izzy Pollack, and Edie Friedman.
“06880” doesn’t often profile athletes. They get their props in the Westport News and other media.
Besides, if I do one, I’ll be inundated by every well-meaning parent of every kid who ever hit a ball, shot a basket or swam a lap.
But Mikell Washington deserves an exception — because he’s an exception.
His story is not a typical Westport one. And he does not compete in a typical sport.
Mikell Washington. In addition to wrestling, he’s a talented singer and sax player.
Mikell is a wrestler. Though he wears the Staples “S,” he lives in Bridgeport. Yet he wore that “S” proudly, all the way through the New England tournament earlier this month.
Mikell’s older brothers, Andrew and Adam, won places in Westport’s Open Choice program, the lottery that brings Bridgeport youngsters here beginning in 1st grade.
As a sibling Mikell was offered a spot too. He’s been a Westport student through Green’s Farms Elementary School, Bedford Middle, and now as a Staples senior.
It isn’t easy. He gets up at 5 a.m. to take a long bus ride. He doesn’t get home until 6:30 or 7 p.m.
In middle school, he sometimes wanted to quit. But his mother — Gardenia — kept him going. Now, Mikell says, “I’m very happy for it. Even through the worst times, I appreciate being here.”
After his freshman football season at Staples, Mikell saw the Giunta brothers running sprints. They were getting ready for wrestling, and said the team needed a heavyweight. The next day, Mikell and his brothers showed up.
At first, rolling around the mat was just fun. Soon, however, he realized how much he wanted to win.
He didn’t. During his entire 9th grade year, Mikell won once: a junior varsity bout. He was 0-for-that-entire-varsity-season.
“I hated losing,” Mikell says. One reason he lost so much was his weight. Just 5-5, he wrestled in the 285-pound class.
He cut out junk food. That — combined with rigorous training — helped him shed pounds by the bucket. As a sophomore he was a 189-pounder. He stayed that weight as a junior. This year he moved up to 195.
More than nearly any sport, wrestling rewards determination and perseverance. By this year — thanks to year-long work with assistant coach Jeff Lauzon, the off-season Monstarz Wrestling Club, summer camp at Oklahoma State, and his own experience combining moves with strength and stamina and an understanding of leverage — Mikell placed 3rd in the FCIAC (league) tournament, 3rd in the LL (extra large schools) state tourney and 3rd in the state open.
He capped the season with a win at the New England tournament in Providence — the 1st for a Staples wrestler in 18 years.
But there’s more to Mikell than just grappling. As a defensive lineman, he’s been part of 2 FCIAC championship and 2 state runnerup football teams. He’s an all-state rugby player too.
Mikell Washington, performing with the choir at last winter’s Staples Candlelight Conert. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
Mikell sings in the choir, and plays sax in the Staples band. He’d love to do jazz band, but there’s no time.
As a part of the St. Baldrick’s club, he’s shaved his head to raise money for childhood cancer research. “When I see kids who are so much less fortunate than I am, that’s not a big sacrifice,” he says.
Next year, Mikell hopes to attend either Penn State or UConn. He plans to study criminal justice.
Being part of Open Choice — and making the choice to wrestle — has helped make Mikell Washington who he is. Staples “has given me a new view on the world,” he says. “The skills I’ve learned have been amazing.”
He singles out a freshman biology teacher, Heather Morley, for simple words of advice he never forgot: “You can be whoever or whatever you want.”
But he saves his biggest praise for his mother.
“She’s my biggest critic, and my number one fan,” Mikell says.
“I remember when I was younger, I was breaking down to my mom. I wanted to quit, but she said if I thought like a loser I’d be a loser.
“Then I won my first match ever. I felt like I’d won a national title. It was the happiest moment of my life.”
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to “06880”: PO Box 744, Westport, CT 06881. Or use Venmo: @blog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)