For Westhampton Beach wrestlers like Liam McIntyre, a good coach can change a match, but a great coach can change a life. And that’s exactly what Paul Bass has done.
McIntyre remembers being Bass’s first seventh-grade varsity starter at 106 pounds. After he’d made All-League but missed his shot at a title, his coach pulled him aside and told him he saw his young grappler was destined for greatness. Bass told him the two of them would be in the state finals McIntyre’s senior season at 195 pounds, and that’s exactly what happened. McIntyre became his coach’s second and last wrestler to make it to the state finals. After 37 years, 32 as head coach, the Westhampton coach and former Hurricane wrestler is retiring.
“Coach Bass is literally like a second father to me — we have conversations not only about wrestling, but about life, and he’s just been an unreal mentor and such an amazing influence,” McIntyre said. “I’m super happy we’ve had so much success in his final year. Everyone knows he can be a little crazy, but when you get to know him you realize this is a guy you want by your side through life. He’s one of the greats, and will be remembered as a legend of Long Island wrestling.”
Over his career, Bass amassed 324 wins, making him the sixth winningest coach in Suffolk County. He has produced 246 All-League, 50 All-County, eight county champion, 13 state qualifier, and six All-State wrestlers. He has sent wrestlers to the state tournament 12 out of the last 14 years, the best record over that span.
Bass has earned the Coach of the Year title seven times in his career, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015, the same year he retired from teaching social studies. As a Westhampton student in 1978, the then-155-pound Bass was named the school’s second Suffolk County champion. He is currently vice president of the Suffolk County Wrestling Coaches Association, where he previously served as treasurer.
Dedicated To His Athletes
Bass’s other state finalist, 2013 graduate Alex Tanzman, said his coach was always encouraging and eager to lend a helping hand. What he loved most was how being a part of the team was always about more than wrestling.
“Of course he taught me a number of wrestling moves and techniques, but also how to compete with dignity and pride,” said Tanzman, who added his coach also helped him battle through injury and issues at home, learning his coach had struggled with his own issues, including overcoming thyroid cancer in 1991. “It was great knowing that my coach cared about me not only as a wrestler, but as an individual off the mat. He was a mentor and a friend.”
Wrestling was about family for Tanzman, and the sport had been in Bass’s family for some time. He took to the mat after watching his cousin compete for Westhampton.
“I got into a fight after school in sixth grade, broken up by the basketball coach in middle school,” Bass said during a Hall of Fame interview, laughing. “He told us he would see us next year, and that’s when I decided to wrestle instead of play basketball.”
Bass even had the unique opportunity to coach his sons. Twins Conner and Zach were engineering majors and earned All-Conference honors at Stevens Institute of Technology, and Liam wrestled for SUNY Oneonta. The twins are also part of the 100-plus wins club at Westhampton. Connor earned All-State honors after finishing second in the county in 2011. He also finished fourth in 2008 and 2009, while Zach placed fourth in 2011 and was named an academic All-American in 2015 wrestling for the Division III Ducks.
Zach Bass said his father has always been dedicated to whatever he puts his mind to. The coach used to run triathlons and is also chief of lifeguards at Southampton Town’s Tiana Beach in East Quogue, where he runs workouts in the early morning.
“He’s very team-oriented, works with kids at every level ensuring the effort is put in, and it showed,” Bass said of his father. “Anything you have to attack he made sure we knew how to prepare and work through stuff, to never give up.”
The head coach considered retiring several times, and it hit everyone hard to hear that this time, his decision was final.
“He can’t take a half or a part-time role in it. It’s all or nothing for him,” he continued. “He’s done right by so many people for so many years that it’s bittersweet, but we’re very, very proud of him. This has all been a cool experience for all of us.”
Zach noted that none of the success would have been made possible if it wasn’t for his mother, Kim, who he’s called his father’s “driving force.” She said wrestling has been as much a part of her life as it has been her husband’s, and she wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s hard knowing that this has been his last season, but it’s time. It’s time for him to start doing more things for himself,” she said. “He’s built a lot of strong relationships through this — it’s been incredible — and it’s kind of helped him in a way walk away from the sport knowing that he’s done what he was supposed to do. And it’s never been about money or accolades, it’s always been about the kids.”
Replacing A Legend
Westhampton Athletic Director Kathy Masterson, who’s been at the helm for the last 13 years and has known Bass for 20, said her longstanding coach is irreplaceable.
“Our wrestling program, in my opinion, is second to none,” she said. “The kids are hardworking, dedicated, and upstanding young men and women, and that’s a testament to Paul. He demands that and they buy in.”
Masterson said she’s had many sleepless nights worrying about how she’s going to fill his shoes.
“I could care less about the wins and losses. It’s seeing the former wrestlers that come back to matches,” she said. “It’s about all these kids that still feel a part of this program, and who have become such fine young men.”
Bass has worked with engineering majors, para-rescuers, even EMS special services, and he’s helped mold them. To many, he’s not just a staple at the school but a pillar in the community.
Alex Kravitz, a 2016 graduate, followed his older brother Aiden (2014) in joining the Westhampton team, and constantly found himself smiling, even through motion sickness on rides to away meets. He and his coach discovered their mutual distaste for long trips on a bus heading to the Kutztown University Wrestling Camp. That’s when Bass invited his soon-to-be eighth-grader to sit next to him in the front row. The pair shared that spot on the bus the rest of Kravitz’s wrestling career, and to no surprise, talked about more than just the sport.
“He’s the type of person to dig deep into your life. He cares so much about us that he’s not only a wrestling coach, but a life coach,” Kravitz said. “He has a very strong personality — can seem a little intense — but he’s always willing to crack a joke. I learned many important lessons through my time with Coach Bass I carry with me today . . . the work ethic and discipline that he instilled in me at a young age is what I truly believe has made me the person I am today.”
Kravitz laughed thinking back to how he was impressed his coach could still give him a beating even in his prime, but his relationship with Bass was “give, and you shall receive.” The wrestler said if you followed his coach’s teaching and put forth 100 percent of your effort, he’d give that in return. Moving on from my life as a student at Westhampton, Kravitz said whenever he was going through a difficult situation, he’d think back to a rough Tuesday practice before a dual meet.
“Wrestling under Coach Bass was more than a sport, it was a lifestyle,” Kravitz said. “We were all learning how to become men.”
Bass said that’s all he ever wanted for his players. Having 50-year-olds still calling him coach has been part of the beauty of being a teacher, he said, adding he’s the “luckiest man in the world.”
“Coaching is all about building a relationship with these kids — even taking a kid who’s not very good and seeing him work hard to get All-League — it’s trying to get the best out of every kid, seeing every kid grow,” Bass said following the state tournament. “I’m proud of all my guys, where they came from and where they ended up. My biggest thing has always been to turn them into positive young men, and if that doesn’t happen, I haven’t done my job.”
His wrestlers, colleagues, and family alike said if there’s one thing left to say to their coach, it’s “job well done.”
This version corrects the spelling of Westhampton Beach’s other state finalist, Alex Tanzman, and Paul Bass’ career statistics.