Bill Bofinger does not have a résumé packed with LHSAA titles. As he completes his 50th and final year in education/coaching, I could argue Bofinger provides a legacy few can hope to emulate.
I am not alone. The high school wrestling community in Baton Rouge backs me up. Note there is some symbolism here. Bofinger, who finished his coaching career at Baton Rouge High at the state wrestling tournament Saturday night, has always been the back-up for everyone involved in local wrestling.
“For lack of a better word, coach Bofinger is the Godfather of high school wrestling in Baton Rouge,” Catholic coach Tommy Prochaska said. “He not only is a coach, he’s an innovator, a support system and a historian for our sport.”
If Bofinger’s name sounds familiar, but the school doesn’t, there is a reason. He is a Lee High graduate and two-year football letterman at LSU who spent the first 40 years of his coaching career at his alma mater.
When Lee closed after the 2008-09 school year, Bofinger moved to Tara and then to Baton Rouge High seven years ago. Prochaska points out that Bofinger was the first person to use a computer program for brackets and results. He had someone write a program for it, because there wasn’t one at the time.
Bofinger also started the Lee High Invitational in 1973, now the Louisiana Classic, giving Baton Rouge one of the most prestigious tournaments in the state.
Along the way, Bofinger has been honored. In 2005, he was inducted into the Louisiana chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Not bad for a guy who never wrestled and who started the Lee program in 1969 while learning about the sport.
“I’ve enjoyed this year. This is the first time I’ve coached a girl, something I also enjoyed doing,” Bofinger said. “We have a bunch of young kids, which is fun and good for the future.”
For guys like Bofinger and Phil Bode, who coached and helped promote wrestling at multiple schools before retiring last year, it has never been about the titles or the glory. Bofinger won 10 Baton Rouge City titles at Lee, but no LHSAA titles. Recognition comes in other forms.
While at BRHS to interview Bofinger, a parent approached us. Bofinger smiled and told me it was Gust Kritsonis, a top wrestler for Tara in the 1990s, whose son is on the BRHS team. Former Tara coach Doug Payne also is a fixture at many BRHS practices. Yesm what goes around, comes around in a good way.
“Coach Bofinger is a guy we can always go to for advice,” Live Oak coach Chris Collier said. “He helped me so much as a young coach when it came to scheduling and other things. He and Phil Bode were among the people who helped us get our first mat.”
That spirit of cooperation was no accident. Bofinger formed the Baton Rouge Area Wrestling Coaches Association and the Louisiana Wrestling Coaches Association. Both organizations fostered growth of the sport, along with camaraderie.
“There are places where the coaches and teams don’t get along,” Bofinger said. “They don’t help each other or work together. I don’t get that. I never want to lose a friend over a wrestling match. And I guess that is the one thing I’m most proud of … that we do all work together.”
Brusly coach Jimmy Bible remembers when he and Prochaska were young coaches watching Bofinger conduct the local coaches meetings they now run. “We sat in the back wondering how does he know all that,” Bible said.
Given his history, it was no surprise that Bofinger netted an invitation to Catholic High’s 50-year wrestling reunion held last month. He saw many familiar faces. They remembered him too.
“It was the Catholic High reunion and coach Bofinger was a legend in the room,” Zachary football David Brewerton, a former Catholic wrestler, said. “What a legacy.”