Coach Ken Hunte
1927 - 1986
"Coach Hunte" is a lengendary figure to his Mepham wrestlers. He taught leadership, personal courage, and pride in being a Mepham wrestler. Now, 50 years after Ken Hunte graduated from Mepham, his wrestlers, classmates, and friends return to permanantly honor his work in the field of education.
Wrestling is a sport which places the greatest mental and physical demands on its youthful participants. The Mepham wrestling tradition of pride and competitiveness was in full bloom during Coach Hunte's era (1958-1976). Ask any former Mepham wrestler his thoughts of walking into a gym behind Coach Hunte, wearing the Mepham Robe for the first time. All of his wrestlers can relate to the richness of that moment.
Few high school athletic programs in the nation have the history of Mepham Wrestling. Coach Hunte gained the head coaching job from the "Father of N.Y. State Wrestling" Frank "Sprig" Gardner. Sprig was like a father to Ken Hunte. After World War II, both Sprig and Ken returned to Mepham from serving in the U.S. Navy. Ken as a student, and Sprig as his teacher and mentor. He steered Ken in the direction of Syracuse University and a teaching profession. Ken returned to Bellmore where he grew up in his mother's house on Grand Ave. He taught at Winthrop elementary school and returned to the Mepham Wrestling room where he would devote his lifes work to the sport he loved.
Student government representative, 1945
Front row, center student
Bob Bury & Ken Hunte
Jones Beach Lifeguards
The following paragraph is an excerpt from a newspaper article written by Mepham student Les Corwin, published on February 3, 1965:
"Coach Ken Hunte is a dynamic man.... a man who is in more ways than one, a giant among men. One merely has to walk into the wrestling room any afternoon to see the admiration and respect that the youth of this district have for Ken Hunte.... it's true he has taught them how to wrestle well, but more importantly, he has taught them how to live and conduct their lives in a noble manner."
Coach Ken Hunte
Wrestling Legend Ends Career
by Alan Schlein '76,
Bellmore Life, July 7, 1976
Ken Hunte, after 18 years as Mepham's wrestling coach, will relinquish his coaching duties next year. Although he wfll still continue to teach Physical Education and coach Soccer, Hunte said that he would like to spend more time with his family, and take a Christmas vacation, things he has not been able to do while coaching.
Hunte's distinguished wrestling career started very early when, under Mepham's only other wrestling coach, Sprig Gardner, he wrestled as a 105 pound sophomore. Interrupted by World War 2, Hunte won his first title as a 19 year old Mepham senior, scoring an impressive victory in the Junior Metropolitan AAU Championships.
As a college student at Syracuse University, he gained national recognition placing second in three National Championships, (NCAA twice, and AAU once) between the years 1950 and 1952.
His coaching career started when he was working for his master's degree at Syracuse. He coached the freshman team to a 15-0 mark in two years. He then coached at Jerusalem Avenue for two years before taking over in 1958. Immediately he started to compile an awesome record. After nearly two decades at Mepham, his win and loss record of 187-34-2 was superior to any other wrestling coach in New York State, except his predecessor Gardner, who was 254-5.
Hunte's teams were spectacular, winning seven County team championships, 10 division team titles, and 12 division tournament team championships.
But this is only part of the record of Mepham's "other" wrestling legend. Hunte has coached seven New York State Championships, more than any other school can claim. He has had 27 Nassau County Champs, and an unbelievable 68 division champs.
Hunte is always pleased to talk about the seven state titlists, Alan Stock, Mike Fitzgerald, Jack Paz, Tom G lea son, Billy DeSario and this year's champ Lee Speigel.
He was unable to pick an outstanding wrestler, because "there were so many great ones". Several of Hunte's wrestlers have gone on to more wrestling fame in college. Marc Pivon was third in the National Collegiate Championships while wrestling for Penn State. Billy DeSario was fifth while attending Cortland State.
One of his more interesting memories was of a dual meet against Mount Vernon in 1963. Mount Vernon's squad had won 56 consecutive matches and were Section 1 (Westchester) Champions. The Pirates took two bus loads to Mount Vernon for the match. In an overflowing gymnasium the Bucs destroyed the home team 44-0. With the score 29-0, Mount Vernon's undefeated team captain came to the mat at 154 pounds to wrestle Joe Geeb. Almost immediately Geeb was in trouble, and losing 7-0 he got a bloody nose and Hunte called time out.
After an inspirational talk, Geeb went back out on the mat and while the crowd watched in disbelief, Geeb pinned his Mount Vemon opponent
For Ken Hunte, wrestling has been a 6-day a week job. He is very proud of how many former wrestlers are today doctors, lawyers, or teachers. Lee Speigel, Mepham's current state champ will attend Rhode Island on a wrestling scholarship, like many former Pirate wrestlers. Coach Hunte's retirement will only be from coaching, as he still intends to watch many tournaments.
Hunte is not the only retiring wrestling coach in the district. Assistant coach Phil Fltts, who has helped Hunte for 10 years, and Jerusalem Avenue coach Jimmy Murran are also calling it quits. Next year's Buc coach will be John Walters, shop teacher who taught this year at Brookside and wrestled for Coach Bob Bury at Calhoun.
With Speigel's state title, Hunte said this week, "t's a sweet ay to pack it in".
Dear Editor [of Bellmore Life],
I was a student at Mepham High School in the early 60 s and I'll never forget the following incident.
The auditorium was being used as a study hall for tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders. It was just before lunch period and we kids were misbehaving and carrying on. We were driving the teachers, who were there to monitor us, nuts. Pennies were being thrown across the auditorium striking the large map of Long Island.
At one point someone at the rear of the auditorium decided to let loose a bag of marbles and they rolled noisily down the aisle and up the base of the stage where the beleaguered teachers were.
We were laughing and still carrying on when a slow but steady silence began to take place. It originated from the rear of the auditorium and it spread slowly but surely to the front. Wondering why such a change had taken place I looked back and there stood Coach Hunte. His presence was felt throughout the entire auditorium.
I deeply mourn the passing of this great man. He was an imposing figure in my life and so many other peoples' lives. He had a way of getting kids to draw from deep inside themselves and subsequently believe in themselves. Yes, he had a tough exterior but inside he had a warm heart.
To his family expecially, and to his friends and all at Mepham, I express my heart felt sympathy and prayers.
Kevin G. Keegan
December 7, 1997
To: Jerry McHale
I just want to thank you for making Coach Hunte day possible. You and I know the meaning of saying, "I wrestled for Coach Hunte." To this day I owe Coach everything. He was the biggest influence in my life, barring family. He is solely responsible for my going to college and achieving what ever success I have reached. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be coaching wrestling at Nassau Community College.
I won't be able to make the dedication because my team will be participating in a Tournament upstate but I'm sure it will be on my mind the whole day Jan 30. I know Coach wouldn't want it any other way. This year I have 3 Mepham wrestlers on my team, which would make coach smile.
I would be happy to contribute to the fund. I am going to write a letter and hope to have someone read it that day. I'm going to miss seeing all the guys.
By Vince Daley
Not terribly tall by normal standards as he stood before us all
The lines upon his face evidence of experience or great strain
With arms and shoulders that spoke of enormous strength
Yet something in the eyes suggested a somewhat gentler nature
I was but twelve at the time, still not familiar with the world
He stood before the gym class and spoke in harsh but measured tones
Directing threatening tones to those clearly of a less disciplined nature
Seemingly not quite sure how to deal with those of us still beset with fear
Striding before us like a Marine drill sergeant but he was Navy, so they said
And still, I saw a good man, hard at times but only when necessary
And there were those in that class that feared him greatly but not myself
Even then I saw a man trying to bridge a gap but not sure how to do it
His powerful image that which kept the wildest in the group at bay
But still trying to reach the rest of us somehow if only he could find a way
His message always "Extend yourself and see where your reach will end"
His words to me never varied "Vinny, wrestling is the little man's sport"
For a while I tried but my mind and heart elsewhere, not easily to be swayed
And it pained me to know that I had disappointed him but he never let on
He still smacked my back and congratulated me on victories in other sports
But I knew he still wondered what I could have accomplished if so inclined
The years have rolled by quickly and I have thought of him more than once
Wondering if he still was as demanding and unforgiving to most students
His heart always that of the champion he had been so many years before
And then I heard the other day that he's been dead for almost fourteen years
And suddenly it all flashed back like it was yesterday and I was only twelve
They still speak of him at Mepham High like the legend that he truly was
His memory not to be forgotten, the champion wrestler, the winning coach
But for me far more than that, a strong man of gentle and understanding nature
Who never hesitated to try and guide a young man still fearful of the world
And he was probably more successful in his effort than he will ever know
Composed: January 23, 2000, Copyrighted: 2000, By: Vincent P. Daley, Jr.