For two-plus decades, as the wrestling coach at Methuen High, Bill James has been making sure each of his athletes is cared for. Now, they are showing their appreciation in his greatest time of need.
James, who owns more than 500 career wins as a wrestling coach (including more than 400 at Methuen) and a 2012 state title, suffered a shocking life-altering neck injury on Labor Day in an accident at his Salem, N.H., home. He has no use of his arms or legs, according to Methuen assistant coach Mark Skandier, who created a gofundme campaign for the James family.
At nearly $135,000 as of Tuesday evening, the fundraiser has soared past its initial goal of $100,000 and is now aiming for $200,000. One anonymous donor gave $10,000.
For two decades, James directed Methuen’s cross-country program and taught physical education at the school. He previously coached at Ipswich, Bishop Guertin, and Hamilton-Wenham.
“If anybody deserves the praise it’s Bill James, that’s for damn sure,” Skandier said. “There’s wrestling coaches and then there’s teachers. There’s people who, without those people in your life, you wouldn’t be the man you were today.”
Matt Curran, in his eighth year at athletic director at Methuen, lauded the commitment, passion, and determination of his colleague. “When we hosted the sectionals, Division 1 states, All-States, and New England’s [in 2020], Bill made it happen,” he said. “He is so passionate about the sport.
“The outreach in the past few weeks from the Merrimack Valley Conference, the MIAA, fellow coaches, goes to show you how much respect he has earned.”
At last Friday’s Haverhill-Tewksbury football game, grapplers James Cappiello, Cam Heichman, Tim Duggan, Caleb Trovato (Tewksbury) and Brent Nicolosi, Gage Muir, Camden O’Donnell (Haverhill) collected funds for James.
Haverhill AD Tom O’Brien, a Methuen resident, and principal Mike Downs, who previously held the same position at Methuen, helped organize the event.
“We knew we weren’t raising a heck of a lot of money,” said Haverhill wrestling coach Tim Lawlor, who wrestled under the tutelage of James at the former Gator Wrestling Club.
“We were trying to do anything we can because we knew Bill would do anything for us.”
Skandier wrestled for James in middle school before attending St. John’s Prep. When his father died when Skandier was a freshman, he transferred from Providence College to UMass Lowell.
James heard his story, and asked him if he’d like to help coach the Methuen team. He has been alongside his mentor for the past 20 years.
“I was a mess at the time, lucky to receive that phone call,” Skandier said. “He provided great friendship, great mentor, nice to have an elder male in my life at the time, and he’s the perfect one to have. We’ve been best friends ever since, we go on vacations together.”
Skandier said he is just one of hundreds of young athletes who were positively impacted by James’s guidance, passion, and care.
“He just takes every kid that comes into the program and gives them 100 percent,” said fellow Methuen assistant John Sughrue said. “He acts as a role model. To some kids, he’s almost a father figure. It’s the level of commitment he puts in, to push kids to see their full potential. His entire life is giving 100 percent.”
Following the accident, Sughrue has been hearing similar stories about James, even from people he doesn’t know.
“He means the world to me,” said Sughrue, who registered 204 wins at Methuen, winning Division 1 State, All-State, and New England titles. “He started off as my middle school [gym] teacher. He was my coach in high school, my teacher in high school. He became a mentor and colleague. He’s one of my closest friends. He’s a staple of my life, so this is really difficult.”
Andover coach Mike Bolduc coached briefly with James, and now his nephew, Joe Bolduc, competes for Methuen.
“His coaching stands on its own,” Mike Bolduc said. “He puts together such a strong program. He coached cross-country for a long time. That program has been dominant for a long time. His wrestling program has been dominant for a long time. All the accolades he receives, he earned.”
While everyone waits for updates, they know that Bill James never gives up.
“He’s a competitor,” Bolduc said. “I really hope he can fight through this because he’s a competitor, and if anyone can do it . . . “
With the family requesting privacy, there have been no updates on James’s condition.
Craig Larson of the Globe staff contributed to this story.
AJ Traub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.