The New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame is an exclusive club, and it’s not often that a Vermonter gets the call.
When Barre’s David Fournier was notified that he had been inducted, he was understandably emotional.
“It was a little overwhelming actually,” Fournier said. “To be honest, I had a hard time telling my wife about it — I don’t know why. It was the impossible. It’s gotten easier talking about it since then.”
Fournier’s modesty is one reason aspiring grapplers gravitate toward him. He wrestled for Spaulding during the 1970s and has been a fixture with the Barre Youth Sports Association since returning from Rhode Island after a brief stint as an assistant with his alma mater. He and fellow BYSA coach Mick Kerin spent the following years training the wrestling team at Spaulding.
“You can’t mention Dave without Mick Kerin,” Spaulding coach Darren O’Meara said. “They’re such a special piece of our community. They’ve been keeping BYSA together for decades and they’ve been incredible volunteers. Any community would be lucky to have people like that giving up so much time and energy — and for no other reason than to help young people.”
For 31 years, Mount Anthony has ruled the wrestling roost in Vermont. But Fournier is confident that Spaulding’s day is not far away.
Fournier took over as interim coach during the 1993-1994 season, and the following year he was an assistant for coach Bill Young when the Tide won the New England Championship. Chris Hammond was a four-time finalist and his twin brother Joe was a three-time state champ and a New England champ. O’Meara was a freshman on the 1993-94 squad, joining standouts like Josh Gingras, Joe Tucker, Tom O’Brien and Kevin Moulton. Even though O’Meara was pinned 30 times that season, never advancing past the first period, Fournier was always encouraging.
“Every time coming off the mat, I remember Dave shaking my hand and telling me, ‘You did good. We can work on this,’” O’Meara said. “It was always positive and supportive, so it keeps kids interested and they don’t get discouraged. I have friends who wrestled back then, and he really was the difference between them making something of themselves or not.
”There have been a lot of wrestlers who grew up in Barre in rough situations, with not a lot of parental involvement. And he was the father figure, so to say, and he helped point those guys in the right direction. And if you do that for 40 years, and you have an impact on 10 kids each season, that’s hundreds of kids. And of course they go on and affect other people. It’s a big deal.”
As a teenager, Fournier began his full-circle journey by competing for three-time Vermont Wrestling Coach of the Year Chuck Welch. There was a bit of serendipity in his decision to try out, and there was also an element of confronting reality.
“My friend and I figured out that we weren’t going to be able to contribute to the basketball team,” he said. “And while we were walking in the halls at Spaulding we saw a sign for wrestling tryouts. We signed up that day.”
Fournier helped build the foundation for Tide wrestling, competing for a dynasty team that won three straight titles from 1976-1978. But it was a bout that he actually lost that helped propel him to a collegiate career.
“I lost the last match of my high school career, and it left me feeling that I still had something to prove,” Fournier said. “I was looking around the office of my coach and I saw a brochure for Rhode Island College. And when I picked it up I read that they had a wrestling program there. I knew I wasn’t done yet.”
Fournier hasn’t slowed down, contributing to the sport at multiple levels for over four decades. He was named Vermont Coach of the Year alongside Kerin after Spaulding’s 2008-09 season, and he’s still actively involved as a BYSA coach and a referee. If there’s a wrestling event in the Granite City, odds are Fournier has some connection. And despite been devoted for so long, Fournier is far from done.
“The mind is still willing,” he said. “And even though the body is a bit slower, I still enjoy the interaction with the kids. I’ve been doing this for so long now that we’re getting the second generation of some of our former athletes.”
Kerin has been right there almost every step of the way during Fournier’s coaching tenure. The pair steadily developed a strong rapport and a recipe for success, allowing the Spaulding program to maintain solid numbers while other teams struggled with preseason turnout.
“We’ve been together for so long, it’s second nature,” Kerin said. “We’re like an old married couple. ... I think we maybe take him for granted a little bit. We’ve been very lucky to have him for all this time. And obviously countless wrestlers have been fortunate to have him.
“He doesn’t just get the respect here but also in the whole of Vermont and New England. The kids take right to him — he’s the Pied Piper that all the kids look up to and follow.”
Fournier freely admits that wrestling is not for everyone. It’s a unique sport that’s all about hard work, dedication and creating your own good fortune — both on and off the mat. When people like Fournier pursue it for long enough, wrestling becomes a labor of love. And there’s no going back.
“There’s not a lot of sports where you’re in the middle of this 28-foot circle and it’s pretty obvious who wins and who loses,” Fournier said. “You make one little mistake and your whole soul is bared for everyone to see.”
Anyone associated with wrestling knows that some matches are 100% predictable, while others can turn on a dime. And sometimes the only thing to decide the final outcome is luck. But it’s apparent that luck has little to do with Spaulding’s wrestling boom. The entire Granite City owes a debt of gratitude to Fournier for his service, and even the next generation of soon-to-be-born grapplers will be better off because of him.
Whether Barre residents know it or not, they’ve already hit the jackpot with Fournier.