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East Haven resident Bill Wallach has coached soccer at Guilford and North Branford high schools, in addition to coaching wrestling, track and field, and Unified Sports. (Photo by Jenn McCulloch )
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For more than three decades, Bill Wallach coached high school soccer throughout the area, spending much of his career at Guilford High School, before coaching at North Branford and then Sacred Heart Academy. Most recently, Bill, an East Haven resident, worked as an assistant coach at The Hopkins School.
While soccer was Bill’s first love in sports, he also coached wrestling at the high school and middle school levels, in addition to track and field, and has worked with the Unified Sports programs at several schools. Bill is not currently affiliated with a program, but he has continued to work with athletes and hopes to join a team for the fall season.
“I just love working with the kids on and off the field,” says Bill, 79. “I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do, and I’m hoping I could still continue to get involved.”
Bill’s experience in soccer dates back to when he grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bill played soccer in high school and continued his career at Springfield College.
After graduating with a teaching degree in 1964, Bill began to look for a job. When he was offered a position in Guilford, Bill and his wife Carol decided to move to Connecticut and settled in East Haven, where they have lived ever since.
“It’s a great community with great, friendly, respectful, loyal people,” Bill says.
In 1971, Bill joined the staff for the boys’ soccer team at Guilford High School (GHS) as an assistant coach. He became the head coach a few years later. In 1976, Guilford traveled to England to celebrate the Revolutionary War. There, the Indians competed against a team from Guildford, England. The team also traveled to Bermuda twice to play the country’s Junior National team, a team that Guilford later hosted on U.S. soil.
For more than 20 years, Bill headed up the boys’ and girls’ programs at Guilford. Throughout his time at the school, he amassed an overall record of 220-13-9, including six state titles, several Shoreline Conference and Southern Connecticut Conference championships, and a great number of athletes who went on to play soccer in college.
“What a lot of people don’t know because the banners are not there is that the boys won 18-consecutive Shoreline Conference championships. There were a lot of great athletes who worked hard for those,” says Bill. “We were also blessed by winning a number of state titles and I always said, ‘I didn’t have anything to do with that. They did it on their own.’”
Bill attributes part of the team’s success to his early adoption of using weightlifting and plyometrics in training for soccer, along with the fact that his athletes were always working on their game during both the season and the offseason. Team bonding was another important aspect.
“With both the girls and guys, they worked year-round,” Bill says. “We had our traditional before-game pasta dinners, which was new in soccer then. It was how we got ready for the game.”
During his time in Guilford, several athletes were looking to begin a wrestling program. Bill had taken two 10-week wrestling courses in college. Bill Sweeney, the athletic director at the time, asked Bill to take the helm of the new team.
Bill coached the Guilford wrestling team for five years. One of the biggest highlights came when the Indians defeated Hand to win the Shoreline Conference title. Bill’s assistant coach then took over the program, and the coaches since then have been former athletes on Bill’s teams. GHS alum John Saville remembers when Bill started the program and recruited him to come out for the squad.
“Coach guided me to my Shoreline championship my senior year,” says Saville. “What really amazes me about him is he never wrestled in his life. He learned the sport by research. There were no YouTube videos. He was checking books out of the library.”
Saville adds that Bill was a major mentor in his life on a personal level, too.
“He shared a lot of tough love with us. We knew we could count on him and that he always had our backs. He was like another parent,” Saville says. “He had a lot to do with shaping me into the man I am right now. I’m blessed to call him a friend and a mentor.”
Bill estimates that he has coached “thousands” of kids over the years. In addition to soccer and wrestling, he also coached track and field in Guilford.
Bill went on to coach soccer at North Branford High School at the urging of Judge Tom O’Keefe. Bill remembers joining a small squad that had a set of twins who were seniors, as well as eight freshmen. However, that team came together to qualify for the State Tournament.
“I remember keeping stats on penalty shots during the training session before our first tournament game, but I threw it in the dumpster, saying ‘We’re not going to need this,’ and [assistant coach] Edmund Burkle climbed into the dumpster to get it,” says Bill. “Don’t you know it, but we went to penalty shots and won the game. It was all Mr. Burkle jumping into that dumpster for the stats.”
Bill had similar success with his next team at Sacred Heart Academy. He coached at the school for three years, making states in two of those seasons, then returned to work with the programs at Guilford.
“Guilford is a soccer town. The town just thrives on the game,” Bill says. “They have a great youth program that develops a lot the young kids.”
Since then, Bill has worked as an assistant coach at Hopkins. He also coached with the South Central Premier AAU team, traveling the Northeast with the program’s U-18 club.
Bill has kept in touch with many of his former players, including Adam Cohen, who is now the head coach for Southern Connecticut State University’s women’s soccer team; and Matt Renola, who was an All-American goalkeeper.
“I’ve worked with both of their kids. I do a lot of stuff for my former players. Anybody that needs help, I’m there for them. And I’m still learning, even in soccer,” Bill says. “Matt or Adam will say something to me that I’ll use in the future. I’ve learned an awful lot from my players over the years.”
Throughout his time as a coach, Bill continued to teach. His retirement from teaching didn’t last long. When Baldwin Middle School needed a part-time physical education teacher, Bill took the job and held the position for 10 years.
Bill found great rewards in coaching, and one of his favorite things that he’s been involved with is Unified Sports. In 1991, Bill began the program at GHS, which was one of the first schools in the state to take part. The program has grown, and Guilford now participates in Unified Sports at both the high school and middle school levels. He also started the program at Branford High School.
“As far as competitors and coaches now, there are probably thousands, and it goes year-round now,” says Bill. “It’s one of the greatest innovative programs in Connecticut.”
Bill and his wife, who was a teacher for 20 years in East Haven, spent many of their summers as counselors at Camp Harkness in Waterford, a summer camp for the physically disabled. They also ran the camp for five years. During that time, Bill required the captains of his soccer team to spend time working at the camp, as well.
Bill and Carol have three sons: James, Andrew, and Michael. The couple enjoys traveling. Carol has visited every state in the country, and Bill still has two to check off his list. Bill also likes to play golf and walk his dog.
When he thinks back on his career, Bill doesn’t focus the stats or the championships. Instead, Bill remembers what he taught his athletes, and he hopes that they took those lessons to heart.
“I always told my players, you can be a plumber, contractor, doctor, artist, whatever you want,” says Bill. “But always be the best you can be and don’t hurt anybody on the way up.”
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