By ANNE MARIE TOBIN
In 80 combined seasons coaching wrestling and girls tennis at Lynnfield High, Craig Stone has seen just about everything.Stone retired as Summer Street School’s physical education teacher last year, but his coaching career is going strong. Boy, is it ever: Stone’s teams have won more than 1,100 matches.
“It’s been an incredible journey and I have had the chance to work with some incredible people in the schools and community, really nothing but one positive experience after another,” said Stone. “When I first started here in Lynnfield, I did not have a clue of where I would be after all these years. If I had a crystal ball, I still would not have believed what these years have brought not only in terms of the accomplishments of the athletes, but being able to see them grow and become people of great character.”
Stone arrived in Lynnfield as a 22-year-old first-year elementary school teacher at the former Center School in 1973. Shortly thereafter, he applied for the boys’ tennis team coaching position, but did not get the job, partly because he was too young.
In hindsight, that might have been the best hiring decision NOT made in the history of Lynnfield High School athletics.
“I was disappointed when I didn’t get the job,” said Stone. When the wrestling job opened up three years later, he applied and was hired. “Of course it didn’t hurt that I was the only applicant,” he said. “The first year, in 1974-’75, it was only a club sport, then we moved up to varsity in 1975-’76.”
In 1981, the girls tennis position was open. “I guess they thought I could handle it, so they gave it to me.”
That’s putting it mildly. Stone has compiled a remarkable record in both sports with a combined record of 1,112 wins, 410 losses and 3 ties.
Stone reached the 500 win mark in tennis on May 13, 2013 with a 4-1 win over Triton at home. It may have been a milestone win, but it was business as usual for Stone, who rested his top singles player (Kelly Nevils) and second-doubles starters (Sloan and Logan Colby-Nunziato).
“Everyone on the team at some point in the season will sit out at least one match, and it was their turn to sit,” recalled Stone. Stone eclipsed the 1,000 combined wins mark the following spring, then hit the trifecta on Dec. 12, 2015, when the Lynnfield/North Reading wrestling team secured Stone’s 500th wrestling win in its first match of the season.
In his rookie year as tennis coach, the Pioneers were 5-7. The second season saw marginal improvement at 6-6. From that point on, it was a wild ride: The team posted winning records and qualified for postseason play for 35 consecutive years, an accomplishment unmatched by any other team in the history of Lynnfield sports.
Stone’s tennis teams have won 584 matches and lost just 87. The Pioneers have won 18 Cape Ann League championships, 14 MIAA North Sectional titles and five state titles, the most recent in the 2014 season when the team had a perfect 21-0 record.
During a three-year span from 1997-1999, Stone’s teams dominated the Division 2 tennis scene, losing only one match (in ‘97) and winning back-to-back state championships, going 22-0 in each of the next two years. At one point, his teams had an 80-game dual-match winning streak.
In 43 years coaching the Lynnfield High and the Lynnfield/North Reading wrestling teams, Stone has had many milestones as well. His teams have won four Cape Ann League titles (1992, 2013, 14 and 15) and three Division 3 North championships (2013, ‘14 and ‘15). In 2014, Stone led the Black and Gold to a second-place finish in the state Division 3 Championship meet. The teams were undefeated in dual meets in back-to-back seasons: 25-0 in 2012-’13 and 23-0 in 2013-’14. Stone has received the CAL Wrestling Coach of the Year Award seven times.
A two-time Boston Globe Coach of the Year, Stone was named the 2013 National Wrestling Coaches Association Coach of the Year and was elected to the Massachusetts Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1998.
On April 29, Stone received the ultimate wrestling honor, when he was inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, at which time he also received a Massachusetts Chapter of the NWCA Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award. A plaque bearing his name is displayed on the National Wall of Honor at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla.
“I’ve coached a lot of great athletes no matter how you define it, be it athleticism or accomplishments, but what was most important was great character, and I’ve coached a couple of hundred of them,” said Stone. “But the most impressive thing I have ever seen was when Sarah O’Neill won the state individual title her senior year in 2009. She did not lose a game in the semifinals or final, but it was her performance after the match that made it all the more special. She said she wished it had been her team winning.”
Stone says that while he has modeled some of his coaching philosophy and practices after New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he chalks up his teams’ successes to one word – “team.”
“Together Each Achieves More, or TEAM,” he said. “I always thought John Wooden got it right when he said it’s all about, if you prepare to win, the winning will happen. Coaching is like getting in shape, you have to be ready from a physical and mental aspect. Wrestling is a real demanding sport, the season is three months long, and you have such intensity in matches that can come to an abrupt end. In tennis, it’s a different animal due to the nature of the sport.”
Stone says he hasn’t made any long-term decisions about his coaching career.
“It’s a year-to-year thought process at this point,” he said. “I subbed a few days this year then went right to wrestling practice after school, and it was exhausting. I wondered, how did I manage to do this all these years? I still want to win every game, every match and it’s exciting every time we win. Honestly, if it ever gets old or I get used to it, that will be the time to stop coaching.”
Anne Marie Tobin is Sports editor of the Lynnfield and Peabody Weekly News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org