When Dennis Beck was just starting as the wrestling coach at Lancaster High in the mid-1970s, he was fascinated by Pioneer coaching great Dick Post. While many coaches screamed and ranted while their wrestler was on the mat, Post would sit quietly, watching intently.
"He always just sat on the end of the bench, or in the corner at tournaments, and he didn't say a lot," Beck recalled. "You could tell he was always taking mental notes on what was going on out there. He was a guy I really tried to figure out what he was doing, because he really had some great teams. I thought that if I could figure out what he was doing, I was going to be OK."
Beck figured out enough, and he's done more than OK.
Beck will likely become Western New York's all-time leader in coaching wins this week. A 1967 Lancaster graduate who is in his last of 31 seasons coaching the Redskins, Beck has a record of 333-94-3, including 11 straight division championships. He is one win behind behind Armand "Ace" Cacciatore of Niagara-Wheatfield. Lancaster hosts Sweet Home on Wednesday and is at Williamsville North on Friday.
Watch Beck's demeanor while his wrestlers are on the mat, and you get an idea of how much he admired Post, who is a member of the Western New York and state wrestling halls of fame. For the most part -- whether it is just a league meet or the sectional championships -- Beck just sits and watches.
"My belief is, you coach during the week," Beck said. "When you go out there for competition, there's not a whole lot of coaching you can do at that point. I'll try to relay some information to them, mainly about position, or a suggestion for a move, maybe during a break.
"But you better coach during the week, because if you're waiting to coach when it's time to wrestle, it's too late."
Lancaster's success starts with the coaching during the week, and that coaching starts with discipline.
"I think it's absolutely essential," Beck said. "We're no-nonsense when it comes to attendance to practice, to matches, to getting into the (wrestling) room. There's no goofing around. We have our fun, but we have our work to do."
It's a philosophy that Beck brought into the wrestling room after playing football for Joe Foyle at Lancaster.
"There were things we had to do, and if we didn't do them, we weren't on the football team -- end of story," said Beck, who is also an assistant on the football team, which Foyle still helps. "You'd better get in, because if you're not in, you're out. There's no in between. When a kid comes out for wrestling, they know quickly to get on the same page with us, or there are consequences."
But the discipline works the other way, too. Beck promises his athletes he will not waste their time.
That's because every minute is accounted for during practices. It starts with drills on the fundamentals -- every day -- before moving on to different stations. It's a practice plan that Beck learned while he and other football coaches would visit spring practices at places like Penn State and West Virginia.
"Every minute was scripted," Beck said. "When the horn blew, the drill was over, and it was on to the next station. As a coach, you know I have 17 minutes to teach what I have to teach. And you can't be over, because the horn is going to blow. So you have to be organized."
Now, several coaches get their ideas from him. There is a Lancaster coaching family in Western New York that has branched out from Beck. There are former Redskins coaching at Amherst (Dennis Bauer), East Aurora (Keith Maute), Silver Creek (Anthony Venditti), Salamanca (Mike Sebaaly) and St. Mary's (Joe Kuenzi). Just the other day, Lancaster grad Sean Murray, an assistant at Lockport, asked Beck for a mock practice schedule.
That's a long way from Beck's first exposure to the sport. As a sophomore at Lancaster, he had missed football season with a broken leg but was looking to do something for the winter season. And his first choice was . . .
"I always loved to swim, so I jumped in pool . . . and those guys worked hard. So I told the swim coach I was heading next door to the wrestling room," Beck said. "I was an OK wrestler, but something sparked my interest in the game."
"I just love the courage that it takes a kid to wrestle. You can't hide, you can't call timeout. Any success you have is your success. If you fail or make a mistake, it's your mistake."
After attending Kansas Wesleyan to play football, he returned to Lancaster and became a substitute teacher and volunteer football and wrestling coach. In 1976, a group of people including school board president Ed Carlson, "were willing to give me a chance."
"They said, 'Take it and see what you can do with it,' " Beck said, "and I took the ball and ran with it."
Thirty-one seasons later, he says there aren't too many victories that stand out. He remembers a trip to Binghamton for the Union-Endicott duals in 2001 because it's when the Redskins earned some state-wide respect by beating other top programs. Or when the Redskins beat Niagara-Wheatfield, Niagara Falls and Iroquois -- all in one day.
He recalls what he calls "barnburners" with Jamestown, some early battles with Depew and a few with Iroquois, such as the time his team trailed, 32-0, to a team led by Chiefs greats Timm and Todd Slade but came back to win.
"It was just, 'OK, if we beat this team, then let's go to the next team,' " he said.
"This isn't just me that has done this," said Beck, just the fourth wrestling coach of a Lancaster program that began in 1955. "I've had tremendous help. This program was up and running and I just wanted to keep it there, but there have been so many other people, parent volunteers, there's been the Lancaster Kids Club -- we'd have 100 kids from kindergarten through sixth grade in January figuring out what it's about.
"Lancaster kids are just hard workers. They're tough. You give them a purpose, you tell them this is what you have to do to get something done, and they'll do it."