When Richard “Dick” Messier became the wrestling coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in 1979, he lacked the one essential tool for any infant program: a mat.
He didn’t have a practice room, either. The Stags used tumbling mats and a corner classroom that was tucked away inside the school. At the end of three seasons, Messier finally acquired a proper mat.
“After the first three years, I was thinking, ‘What the heck did I get in to?’” he said with a laugh. “But after we got that mat, we started winning.”
And, really, the Stags haven’t stopped.
After 33 years as the first and only coach of DeMatha’s wrestling program, Messier recently recorded his 500th career victory, a remarkable honor for one of Maryland’s more accomplished coaches in any sport.
“I really dedicate it to all the members of the teams that we’ve had throughout the years and all the assistant coaches we’ve had in our program. Without them, this probably wouldn’t be possible,” Messier said.
The Rhode Island native with the booming voice and white goatee notched the win when the Stags beat Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rival Bishop McNamara, 69-12, on Dec. 4. As any wrestling coach with more than three decades of experience likely would say, Messier’s hoping for even more.
“Wrestling’s the kind of a sport where you can’t be satisfied because as soon as you are, you get in trouble,” Messier said. “I’m definitely not satisfied with the 500. Six-hundred or 700 might be something down the road that we can consider. Leading up to it, boy, I’ll tell you what, we’ve had some really great kids and some great teams.”
Messier’s resume is remarkable. In addition to his 500 wins, the Stags have captured 25 WCAC titles, including 22 in a row between 1986 and 2008. Messier is a member of the Frostburg State and DeMatha Halls of Fame and in 1998, he was named the National Preps Coach of the Year to go along with a slew of Coach of the Year honors from various other media outlets throughout his storied career.
“I’m sure that to recognize one team over another, we’d have big problems,” he said. “Even the championships we lost were really close. To recognize one team over another as being dominant from the many, many teams that were living up to what they were supposed to — I don’t know if they call it a tradition — but it’s certainly something we’ve been accustomed to having. There are way too many names to honor just one or two kids.”
DeMatha won five consecutive National Preps titles under Messier’s guidance from 1995-1999 as hundreds of individual wrestlers have captured titles and matriculated to top colleges under Messier’s watch.
McNamara coach Paul Wicks called Messier’s reaching 500 wins a remarkable accomplishment.
“He’s a good man and he works so hard. He’s done a great job to get to that number,” Wicks said. “I know he’s sacrificed a lot of time from family in order to keep the program going. That speaks to his dedication and commitment to the program.”
That dedication and support — from friends, family, coaches and his wrestlers — certainly isn’t something that’s lost on the legendary coach.
“I certainly didn’t do it on my own, I can assure you,” Messier said. “Some of those wins came with a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work and a lot of blood sweat and tears. I think that’s what should be honored — the hard work, the sweating, the playing a little bit hurt or with a bloody nose. I’ve had so much support, especially from the school. I definitely wouldn’t be here without that support.”