Dale Bonsall thought he had a good plan for himself after graduating from Collingswood High School in 1957.
His wrestling coach, Sam Coursen, had other ideas.
“I told him I was going to go to Garden State racetrack and work with thoroughbreds,” Bonsall said. “He grabbed my mom and said, ‘Pack his bags, He’s coming with me.’”
Coursen took Bonsall on college recruiting visits, resulting in his enrollment at West Chester State in Chester County.
Bonsall went on to become a head coach at Haverford High School for seven years and at West Chester State for 17 years, as part of a lifetime of commitment to education and wrestling.
“You’re on a train ride in this life, and people get on and off,” Bonsall said. “Sam Coursen was the conductor of my train.”
The 88-year-old Coursen will be honored March 30 at the Collingswood athletic Hall of Fame banquet at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill.
Coursen was one of the founders of the Hall of Fame, which has distributed more than $1 million in scholarships to Collingswood student-athletes since the first induction ceremony in 1991.
Former Collingswood star wrestler Gary Papa, who became one of South Jersey’s most successful high school coaches, said it’s tough to overstate Coursen’s impact on Collingswood athletics and the sport of wrestling.
“He was like a second father to me,” said Papa, a 1970 Collingswood graduate who built successful programs at Paul VI and Camden Catholic. “He was so influential on so many people.”
Coursen is one of the last links to the glory days of Collingswood athletics. He arrived at the school on Collings Road in 1956 and became the Panthers’ wrestling coach in 1957.
Coursen was the head wresting coach from 1957-71. His teams went 134-34-4, with undefeated seasons in 1960, 1962, 1964, and 1967.
“We were bumpkins when he got here,” said Bonsall, who was Coursen’s first captain. “He changed the mentality. He got us going.”
Coursen coached two state champions in John Leek (106 pounds in 1959) and Jim Robertson (98 pounds in 1962).
He taught health and physical education in the Collingswood school system from 1956 to 1989. For years after he retired as the high school’s head coach, he stayed closely involved with the Collingswood program, serving as a freshman and middle-school coach and as the unofficial sergeant at arms of the varsity team.
“If there was a discipline problem, he’d grab you by the scruff of your neck, and there wouldn’t be a discipline problem anymore,” said Steve Latch, a standout wrestler for the Panthers in the late 1970s.
Coursen is a member of the South Jersey wrestling Hall of Fame and the national wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. Collingswood’s wrestling center bears Coursen’s name.
Latch said Coursen was a tough but loyal and sentimental coach who wasn’t so keen on remembering names.
“He’s called me ‘the red-head’ my whole life,” Latch said.
If You Go
What: Collingswood Athletic Hall of Fame banquet
When: March 30 at 6:30 p.m. (Doors open 5 p.m. for socializing)
Where: Crown Plaza Hotel, Cherry Hill
Who: This year’s individual inductees are Frank Adams (class of 1966, archery); Marybeth Falzone Weber (1975, field hockey and lacrosse); Maureen “Mickey” Donohue Creran (1976, basketball and lacrosse); Diane Shefski Harpe (1986, basketball and softball); Kyle Engelbert (1992, soccer and tennis); Ron Hamrick (wrestling coach).
Teams honored: 1974 field hockey and 1975 girls’ lacrosse.
Special honor: Former wrestling coach Sam Coursen, a founding member of the Hall of Fame, will be recognized for years of service to Collingswood sports.
Tickets: Contact Marie Rossell Kolynych at 609-518-0408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.