Eugene Dermody came to Montclair State University in 1973 with the desire to make a difference. The New Jersey native spent his early post college years coaching wrestling and teaching chemistry and physics at numerous high schools in New Jersey. But it was his dedication to creating a safe, inclusive space for LGBTQ individuals that earned him recognition throughout a long-lasting career. In 2014, he was awarded the Tom Waddell Award by the Federation of Gay Games, the world’s largest sporting and cultural event organized by, and specifically targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.
Dermody graduated from New York University with a Bachelor Degree in Classical Languages and Chemistry and soon after earned his New Jersey teaching certificate. During a period when science teachers were in high demand, Dermody taught at Paramus Catholic high school in Paramus, N.J., and immediately enrolled in the Masters in Teaching secondary school science program at Montclair State.
“The teaching program at Montclair State helped me tremendously in my own classroom,” says Dermody. “The professors in the science program were hands on and way ahead of their time. At Montclair State I was using technology in the classroom that wasn’t available to my own students. I learned firsthand how impactful it could be to the learning experience, and that it was the future.”
After earning his Master’s Degree, he taught at New Milford, Northern Burlington, Paramus Catholic, Hawthorne and Leonia high schools. He also coached wrestling. At the time, Dermody was teaching in New Jersey but living in New York City during the AIDS epidemic. One day, he saw a flyer for the first Gay Games, being held in San Francisco, Calif., and boarded the next flight to compete.
“The Gay Games experience changed and saved my life,” he says. “I decided that I needed to let others like me know how they could find happiness and success being gay by meeting like-minded people through playing sports. It was also a powerful and positive political message at a scary time when it was much needed by the community. ”
Dermody’s award in 2014 is the highest honor given by the Federation of Gay Games to recognize individuals who have inspired pride in sports, culture or volunteerism. It’s named in memory of the 1968 Olympian and founder of the Gay Games, Dr. Tom Waddell, and is awarded every four years. Dermody is the only wrestler to have competed in all nine Gay Games, winning four gold, two silver and two bronze medals along the way. He has served as president of Golden Gate Wrestling Club since 1986, founded Wrestlers WithOut Borders and is a former president of the Federation of Gay Games.
On July 24, 2015, he will be inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago, Ill.
Happily semi-retired, Dermody lives in San Francisco and returns to New Jersey every month to visit family members. Montclair State didn’t have a wrestling program when Dermody was a student, but it now has an active club sports team.
“I’m so glad to hear that students now have the opportunity to get involved in wrestling” he says. “If it weren’t for the camaraderie and discipline I learned from being a part of a team, I wouldn’t have become who I am today. I’m truly blessed, and it’s been an honor for me to give back to my community and my sport throughout the years.”