By COLIN FLANDERS

Milton varsity wrestling coach Phil Bidwell has wrapped up his final season with the Yellowjackets after 15 years of Milton High School sports. 

“I hope the athletes have learned as much from me as I have learned from them, and they take some of these experiences and memories for the rest of their lives,” said Bidwell, who’s also stepping down from his head coaching gig with the junior varsity football team.

Bidwell started his own wrestling career as a seventh-grader in 1992 and continued for most of his high school career, reveling in the physicality of the sport. “I like challenging myself,” he said. Plus, “you can throw people around and not get in trouble for it.”

He then joined Milton youth wrestling in 2003 when his step-son picked up the sport and found himself leading the high school’s junior varsity program the next year. He remained with the JV program for the next dozen years, then stepped in to fill the shoes former varsity coach Drew Gordon, giving Bidwell a chance to coach his other son, Spencer, who will attend Castleton in the fall.

Bidwell poses for a photo beside wrestler Nick Johnson, who became Milton’s first-ever state champion last year (Courtesy photo)

The Yellowjackets found success under Bidwell’s leadership, producing their first-ever state champion last year in Nick Johnson, who also previously won a New England title. But understanding that only a fraction of high school athletes ever go on to become professionals, Bidwell said he also tried to preach lessons beyond the mat.

“There’s more to life than sports, and if you want something in life and in sports, you work for it, just like wrestling,” Bidwell said. “If you want to be a state champion, you’ve got to work. You’ve got to put the time in. That goes throughout life in general.”

“I thought that if I was there coaching, that I could keep one or two more kids off the streets,” he added.

Such efforts stick out to athletic director Marcel Choquette, who said coach Bidwell “exemplifies everything that we believe in.”

“He’s focused in on not only the kids athletic performance but their academic performance and helping them grow and develop as young people,” Choquette said. “He will be very difficult to replace, but we feel very fortunate that the number of years time and energy that he has expended on the kids of our community.”

After more than a decade of near constant trips to various sporting events, Bidwell hopes to have some more free time to spend on the “honey-do” list. Still, he said Yellowjacket faithful shouldn’t be too surprised to see him around now and then.

“It’s hard. It’s really really hard,” Bidwell said of leaving the programs behind. “I’m stepping away but I’ll never step out.”