Before Danbury dominated the FCIAC, there was Staples High in Westport.
Saul Pollack, who coached the Staples High wrestling team for 15 years and led the Wreckers to three State Open championships in six years and seven FCIAC titles, died on April 28 at the age of 85.
A memorial service to honor Saul’s memory will be held Thursday, June 2, at 11 a.m. at the Jacky Durrell Pavilion, 401 Fairfield Beach Road in Fairfield.
Pollack was a successful wrestling and football coach at Staples High where he was a popular physical education teacher before retiring in 1978 to take over as owner of Harry’s Wine and Liquor Store in Fairfield, a business founded by his father.
The legendary Staples High School wrestling coach guided the Wreckers for 15 seasons, beginning in the 1963-64 season and building the program into an FCIAC and state powerhouse by the time he retired following the 1977-78 campaign. During that time, Pollack recorded 177 victories, still a Staples record, while winning seven FCIAC championships and three state titles.
In fact, when wrestling was finally recognized as a varsity sport by the FCIAC in 1966-67, Pollack led Staples to the conference’s inaugural championship. He also led the Wreckers to their first State Open championship that season. There were no divisional meets at that time – just the State Open meet.
Staples won repeated as FCIAC champions in 1968 and added another conference title in 1970, sharing with long-time rival Brien McMahon with both teams going 11-0-1 in the conference with the one tie coming against one another.
From 1973-76, Pollack led the Staples to four straight FCIAC crowns, a feat that went unmatched until Danbury went on its current run with 34 league titles in the past 35 years.
When the FCIAC went to the league-wide championship tournament it currently uses in 1976, it seemed only fitting that a Pollack-coached team would win the first one. When the FCIAC went to a two-division format in 1971-72, Pollack’s teams won the first three Eastern Division championships and six of the first seven. The one season they didn’t win the Eastern Division (1974-75), they still won the FCIAC championship.
In addition to the 1967 season, Pollack would lead Staples to two more State Open championships in 1970 and 1973. They were second at the Open in 1968 and 1971.
Staples almost won another state championship in 1976 but the Wreckers were edged by Hall High in the first Class LL championship meet by 10 points.
In Pollack’s final season, 1977-78, Staples went 14-1 in the FCIAC to win another Eastern Division title, and then finished runner-up to Westhill – the only team in the conference to beat them – at the FCIAC Championships. The Wreckers went 16-2-1 overall that season and finished fourth at the Class LL state meet.
Three times in his illustrious career, Pollack was named the wrestling coach of the year by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association, earning the honor in 1967, 1970 and 1973. No one else has won it more than once except Conard’s Robert McKee (1966, 1968) and Brien McMahon’s John Casagrande (1969, 1974), who each won it twice.
Pollock was also named the Eastern Regional Coach of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association, which qualified him as one of eight finalists for the National Coach of the Year award.
Wrestling wasn’t the only sport Pollack made his mark in at Staples. For two decades he also served as the defensive coach of the Wreckers’ football team under head coach Paul Lane. It was Pollack’s defense that keyed the 1975 Staples football team that went undefeated and was voted as the No. 1 team in the state sportswriters’ top 10 poll.
Pollack’s success in both wrestling and football earned him a place in the FCIAC Hall of Fame in 2001 and honored by the Sportsmen of Westport organization in 2007.
“He was definitely one of the legends at Staples,” said Marty Lisevick, Staple’s current athletic director. “He was someone who was able to that multi-sport kid (to wrestle), get that football kid. We haven’t been able to do that since. He made it fun, and the kids respected him.”
Born in Bridgeport, Pollack attended Roger Ludlowe High School in Fairfield where he was a linebacker on the football team from 1953-55. He also threw the shot put and discus on the track team all three years.
Following his graduation in 1956, Pollack played football at Springfield College for four seasons, converting to the offensive line as a guard. It was also at Springfield that Pollack was introduced to the sport of wrestling, competing in the 187-pound weight class. Little did anyone know at the time that experience would lead to a legendary coaching career.
After graduating from Springfield in 1960, Pollack joined the Westport School System and began his teaching and coaching career at Staples.
He would eventually retire from both to own and operate Harry’s Wine & Liquor Market in Fairfield, the business his father Harry started in 1941. 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.
You can leave an online condolence through his obituary.
Editor’s note: Most of the information for this story comes from former Norwalk Hour sports editor George Albano, who compiled a profile on Pollack for his induction in the Sportsmen of Westport Hall of Fame organization in 2007.