Henry Littlefield Remembered 2003
I really appreciate your wonderful remarks. I was very lucky to know Henry for all those years. When I flew up to Niagara University for the State Championships of 1967, I experienced a similar type of departure. Here I was included as almost a member of that great team. Here was Jimmy Davis, on top of the wrestling world (he's still talked about today), the late great Alex Cunningham, Doug Garr and Mario Criscione all winners, and scoring members of that championship team. Here is the great Henry Littlefield in the center of the action and adulation, along with Randy Forrest one of the greatest competitors of our time and me! Here I come along from Boston University, flying in from Providence, Hartford and Syracuse and landing in a snowstorm. Here I am with not a bed to sleep in, nor literally a “pot to piss in” and Henry says, “Richie get in the picture, you belong as much as anyone!” Wow! Top of the scholastic wrestling world, and even I did not know that this was his last match. The saga ended there and that night. I was there with him when we walked out of the door of the White Plains HS on that cool March night of 1962, and he put his big arm around my shoulder. In our first official year as a team, Henry was telling me how he had made the mistake of wrestling Bobby Danetz at 183 instead of Howie Wilson, who wrestled up at heavyweight. He told me that he would never again let his heart outweigh his brain when it came to who should wrestle where. I was always at his side during the Divisions and Sections the next five championship years. In fact at age 18 he had me run the Sections at MVHS and I ran it the next two years. What a great five years they were. We were undefeated in Section I dual meets, won all the Holiday tourneys and the Divisions and the Sections. We broke all the scoring records, and re-wrote the history book of Section I!
So that night it was all over. The next year Henry went to Northampton and the book closed on a unique time. Of course Randy and Jimmy were good, very good, but nothing would really be the same. I stayed around until about 1977 when Jimmy left and that was it for me. I had a business to run, a house to maintain and two children to raise no less being active in local politics. An era ended.
Henry grew up without a father, went to Trinity Prep, lived in Manhasset, LI, taught Jimmy Brown how to wrestle in the “Y” pool, went to Columbia University, wrestled and played football for the class of 1954, met Madeline Smith from Long Island, fell in love, got married and went into the Marine Corp. He told me once how he came to Mount Vernon, but I forgot. He met the legendary General Lewis “Chesty” Puller at Camp Lejeune, re-enacted the famous Marine landings on Okinawa for the 10th Anniversary of that great battle in 1955, and started to teach in Mount Vernon in 1958. He started a wrestling club with Sully Mott and the great Bill Sywetz, and their first official team year was 1961-2. I met him in the AB Davis gym, after; I was cut from the basketball team by Vinnie Olson. We had had our differences. When I talked to Henry I told him that I had spent one year at Horace Mann and came in contact with Gus Petersen, who was the trainer there. Petersen was a famous turn of the century wrestler, and an equally famous coach at Columbia where Henry met him as his career wound down. We both liked history and Henry ask me to help him with the team. From that day on we were rarely out of communication with each other for almost 40 years. Henry loved science fiction, baseball, mysticism (especially Edgar Cayce) and the ironies of history. When I met him, in my junior year at Davis, I was already regarded as one of the top history students. I had read practically every book on WWII in the MV public library by the time I was 12, and Henry and I talked WWII history constantly. We rarely talked about wrestling and I rarely gave him my opinion on the sport until years later. I helped him run the practices at Edison Tech, and he turned over almost everything to me that involved management. I did the ordering of the uniforms, the wrestling shoes, not sneakers, the headpieces, the kneepads and even the tape. I organized everything with complete fiat from the Coach. We had huge teams and he had to make order out of the chaos that could have developed. The high point of the practices was the wrestle-offs. I would time and score the wrestle offs. Quite often I would let the clock run and run to make sure a real decision was rendered. But no one ever questioned me. In fact over those 5 years and the ensuing 10 or so, no one ever questioned me about anything. Just the fact that I had a “special” relationship with the “Man” gave me a lifetime pass. Both Randy and Jimmy always treated me like a “brother” and we got along famously until the end of the run in 1977. I was 32 years old and had seen hundreds of matches, scores of tournaments, and G-D knows how many matches. I knew all the Section greats from 1961 until 1977. Who I did not know, Randy or Henry told met about. But after Lee's departure, I never saw Mount Vernon wrestle again.
By the way I know your sister, and just spoke to her husband the other day about our upcoming 40th reunion. I write a newsletter twice a year for my class in the name of the late Jon Breen, a close friend and classmate of mine who died at age 48 in 1993. I have raised about $25,000 in Jon's name and sponsor an essay contest yearly. I give and judge a history prize in Henry's name yearly. I have been doing the Jon Breen Memorial Fund Essay contest for 9 years. I know Linda Fairstein and used to golf with her older brother Guy. I'll e-mail you a copy of the last few newsletters.
So, hopefully I have filled in some of the gaps; give me a call one of these days. It will be fun to talk about those “good old bygone days”. rjg