At Mepham High School’s entrance, across from the gymnasium, there is a trophy case devoted to the school’s athletic program. It’s full of trophies, some dating back to 1938.
Two plaques hang on the wall above it, honoring two of Mepham’s legendary coaches — Sprig Gardner and Nick Sabetto. Alongside them is another trophy case, and just inside a nearby hall is a row of displays memorializing many of the school’s greatest athletes.
There is a reason the trophy cases are situated prominently at the front of the school. Athletics have played a major role at Mepham since the school opened 75 years ago.
“You see a real pride here in the school… The kids have a real, deep-seated pride in who they are and where they come from,” said Mepham social-studies teacher and kickline coach Kerry Dennis. “I think that shows when they compete, whether it’s a guys’ team or a girls’ team. They really are proud to be from Mepham.”
It’s a pride that has been instilled, said Principal Michael Harrington, by Mepham’s coaches, past and present. “Achievements and athletics are one thing, but it’s about relationships between coaches and students,” said Harrington. “That’s what students remember — those impacts that those relationships have. That’s been the constant.”
If you ask anyone knowledgeable about or involved in Mepham athletics, they’ll give you four names that have most impacted the program — Gardner, Sabetto, Paul Limmer and Ken Hunte.
Gardner, who died in 1975, coached Mepham wrestling from 1936 to 1958. He is often called “the Father of New York State Wrestling.” In his 22 years of coaching, his overall record was 254-5-1, including 40 tournament titles and 106 sectional championships.
He was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame while coaching at Mepham. “Everybody knew Sprig,” said Mike Muscara, the school’s athletic coordinator for the past 15 years, who coaches wrestling, girls’ softball and junior-varsity soccer. “His drill system was innovative at the time.”