WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley has fond memories of Ward Melville

Wrestler Mick Foley attends the game between the

Wrestler Mick Foley attends the game between the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers. (Feb. 24 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

'Mrs. Foley's baby boy!"

For millions of pro wrestling fans, that phrase from WWE announcer Jim Ross meant that "Hardcore Legend" Mick Foley -- whether portraying Cactus Jack, Mankind or Dude Love -- was heading to the ring.

The three-time WWE champion always kept fans guessing, with an offensive repertoire that ranged from the sick (thumbtacks, barbed wire and flaming branding irons) to the silly (a sock puppet named Mr. Socko.)


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On Saturday, Foley will enter the WWE Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Madison Square Garden, the night before WrestleMania XXIX at MetLife Stadium.

But at Ward Melville High School, from where Mick graduated in 1983, it's Mr. Foley -- rather, Dr. Jack Foley -- who still gets top billing in the family.

For the Foley family, being honored for a lifetime of achievement is nothing new. Recently, Mick was walking through the Dr. Jack Foley Gymnasium at the East Setauket school, named for his father, the longtime athletic director, who died in 2009 at age 76.

Instantly, Mick was transported back in time, his senses of sight and smell grappling for control. He remembered the pine scent of gym floor polish as he stared at the bleachers, where classmate John McNulty changed his life by convincing him to try out for wrestling as a senior.

"When I grew up, this was like my playground, this school,'' said Foley, 47, as he sat in his dad's old office and reminisced with his former JV football and basketball coach, Rick Hancock, 64, and current Ward Melville AD Erin Blaney, 54.

Jack Foley worked long hours, and Mick stayed close by.

"I was tagging along with my dad, having the sights and the sounds and smells -- that potpourri of liniment and perspiration,'' Foley said. "I remember the first time I smelled 'BO' was at a cross-country meet. But it wasn't unpleasant, in a strange way. That's what you got when you worked hard."

Foley played junior varsity football and basketball in 10th grade for Hancock, displaying a knack for boxing out in hoops that made up for his challenged shooting touch.

"Mickey had been around his father and athletics his whole life," Hancock said. "So you knew he knew what to do. It was just a question of getting your feet to do it."

Foley also played lacrosse as a sophomore, and said his work in the goal as a junior for legendary coach Joe Cuozzo earned him recruitment by a couple of colleges. But he said he fell in love with wrestling after initially doing it merely to get in shape for lacrosse.

Kevin James, the future star of the "King of Queens" and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," was a teammate of Foley's. James, who could not be reached for comment, was No. 1 at heavyweight and Foley was his workout partner.

When James hurt his back, Foley said, coach Jim McGonigle put him in the Patriots' lineup.

It was then, amazingly, that the man who in the pro ranks lost an ear in Germany and was burned by C4 explosives in a Japanese "death match'' faced a Patchogue-Medford opponent in what Foley termed his life's greatest challenge.

"I was wrestling a kid named Artie Mims, who was a real solid 215 . . . with a 'Mr. T' mohawk," Foley said of his Patchogue-Medford High School opponent. "It's a pretty intimidating look. I had to win by pinfall . The good news was that there was a pinfall. The bad news was I didn't get it. It was the only time I had been pinned . . . I went down into the Ward Melville wrestling room and cried.

"After that, I really thought, 'The rest of life is going to be relatively easy.' It has been."

That life lesson helped him forge through a career that included sleeping in his car on weekends while training with squared-circle veteran Dominic DeNucci in Freedom, Pa. And it allowed him to finally have his "WrestleMania moment" in 2006 in Chicago, where Edge speared him through a flaming table.

"I always felt like I could argue with Vince McMahon, the larger-than-life billionaire," Foley said of WWE's chairman and CEO. "I can complain about my payoff. I had so much more confidence because I'd been through that most devastating defeat."

Thirty years later, that confidence has helped Foley become much more than an imposing wrestler. He has toured as a standup comic (his next gig is at The Brokerage in Bellmore on June 6), acted and written wrestling books, including two best-selling autobiographies, children's books and fiction.

Mrs. Foley should be proud of her baby boy.

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