To wrestle for Bob Bury was to be relentlessly prepared. There simply was no other way to thrive. The longtime high school wrestling coach, who began the program at Sanford H. Calhoun High School in 1958 and oversaw it for more than 30 years, knew that proficiency in the highly technical sport was a year-round endeavor.
So at a time when high school sports were, by and large, compartmentalized into three- or four-month time frames, Bury would encourage his athletes to attend summer clinics and get on the mat in offseason tournaments.
It produced a squad that was among the most prepared and sound on Long Island, year after year.
“He was way ahead of his time in terms of year-round wrestling,” said John Hamilton, 69, of West Islip, who wrestled for and later coached with Bury at the Merrick school. “In the springtime and summer, we always did clinics and freestyle wrestling ... Commitment was a big thing and he knew that, to be good at anything, you needed to be doing it more often.”
Bury, a father of four and a lifelong Bellmore resident, died on March 15 at Long Beach Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility, his family said. He was 92.
“He loved wrestling,” said Jim Rooney, a Mepham High School and Syracuse University teammate of Bury’s who went on to referee in Nassau for 52 years. “Nobody loved it more.”
That love was seeded in the late 1940s at Mepham, where Bury was a three-time Long Island wrestling champion under legendary coach Frank “Sprig” Gardner. His high school success earned him a partial scholarship to Syracuse, where he placed fourth in his conference and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 1951 and 1952 and was the national freestyle runner-up in 1953, according to Newsday records.
“He would never give up,” said Rooney, 91, of Amityville. “He just wrestled his tail off all the time and had a great stubbornness about him.”
After college, Bury began a more than 30-year career as a physical education teacher at what is now the Bellmore-Merrick school district, first for a short time at what later became Merrick Avenue Middle School and then a long stint at Calhoun. While at Calhoun, he also coached boys gymnastics and rifle, all while preaching the benefits of physical fitness to his students.
“He liked getting people in shape,” said his son Bob Bury, 62, of Pennsylvania. “His big thing was being healthy and he liked teaching that to kids, showing them how to get healthy and live a healthy lifestyle.”
As a coach, the elder Bury held a dual-meet record of 200-77-6, won four regular-season conference titles, five conference tournament titles and the 1967 Nassau Tournament championship. He totaled eight individual state champions, 23 county champions and 68 Nassau place winners, according to Newsday records.
Bury, who retired in 1989, was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1997. In retirement, he worked as a volunteer wrestling assistant at Mepham, getting onto the mat and wrestling with the team into his 70s.
“He was an incredible technician,” said Hamilton, who took over for Bury at Calhoun after his retirement and is currently a volunteer assistant for the Long Island University wrestling team. “He was very diversified. We were solid wrestlers from neutral, top and bottom position. He was a great coach in that regard.”
Bury was well-liked by officials, taking a calm and respectful position toward them, which wasn’t necessarily the norm among other Nassau coaches, said Rooney.
“He was always a very fair man, did not bait referees,” Rooney said. “In other words, he was one of the good guys. Bob Bury let you sit back and do your job. He was always fair, never yelled at you. He just accepted your calls.”
Off the mat, Bury loved the outdoors. He was a longtime lifeguard who began at Jones Beach before rising up to the head lifeguard position at Fire Island National Seashore, a job he held for more than 20 years. In addition to assisting at Mepham, Bury worked as a park ranger for the National Park Service, fighting wildfires on the West Coast as part of his duties.
“He just loved physical challenges,” his son said.
Bury also had an artistic side, carving and burning pictures into wood and giving them as gifts, said longtime friend Lilly Ann Munnich of Bellmore.
“He gave me a beautiful wooden tray and burned the Fire Island Lighthouse on the tray and painted it in,” Munnich said. “They’re beautiful.”
In addition to his son, Bob Bury is survived by his wife of 66 years, Elinor Schmidt Bury of Bellmore; sons Bill Bury of California and Rich Bury of Bellmore; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Patricia; brothers Jerry and Ronnie; and sister, Doris Hopper.
A wake will be held Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at N.F. Walker Inc. Funeral Home in Merrick. A funeral will be held at noon on Wednesday at the funeral home. He will be cremated, his son said.
With Andy Slawson