Woog's World / Westport coach gets an overdue call to the Hall
Westport is filled with Big Names. No matter what their field -- finance, business, law, entertainment -- they make big bucks, and big headlines. They give back to their community. And they make sure everyone knows all about all of it.
John Chacho is a Westporter who has achieved plenty of success. He's made his mark, and had an impact on many lives. But he's not a Big Name. He'll never send press releases announcing his professional, civic and personal accomplishments. John Chacho won't toot his own horn.
So I'll do it for him.
Chacho has dedicated nearly 50 years to the sport of wrestling. He's been a coach and an educator. He's started programs from scratch, and taken over and energized existing ones. He's served on coaching committees, and refereed.
Wrestling is not a glamour sport. At the youth and high school levels, it's nothing like the raucous show produced by WWE. Wrestling is arduous. It demands discipline, commitment and focus -- qualities in short supply among Westport kids when Chacho began coaching in the early 1960s, and even harder to find today. But the rewards are tremendous. A kid who goes out on a mat, alone, and battles someone for six minutes using only his own strength, sense of balance and brains gains the confidence to do anything in life.
For almost five decades, Chacho has provided that opportunity to thousands of local boys (and girls). Kids being kids, many have never said thanks.
Finally, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame will. On April 20, Chacho will be inducted into its Connecticut chapter. The ceremony takes place at the Foxwoods MGM Hotel. It should be a great affair, with appropriate speeches and plaques. For Chacho, the most important part of the night will be the chance to reunite with his wrestlers.
Chacho has spent nearly all his life in this area. A Fairfield native, he joined the United States Marine Corps in January of 1955. He left in 1959, with the rank of sergeant.
In 1962, while studying at Arnold College (now part of the University of Bridgeport), he joined the wrestling club. The next year, while student-teaching at Staples, he and his advisor, physical education instructor Chuck Smith, set up the high school's first club. The next year, wrestling became a varsity sport.
After coaching in other area programs, in 1970 Chacho began his Westport career. During the heyday of junior high school sports, he led Bedford in its spirited rivalry with Coleytown and Long Lots.
Moving on to Staples, he compiled a 60-27 record. During his tenure, the Wreckers were one of the top wrestling programs in Connecticut. In 1984-85, his squad won the FCIAC championship. That same year, Staples beat Danbury 30-27 in a dual match -- the Hatters' last loss for over two decades.
Meanwhile, Chacho also ran travel teams for the Westport YMCA, and Westport Parks and Recreation. He started the PAL team, and coached it for 20 years. After retiring from the Westport school system in 1998, Chacho coached at Green's Farms Academy and Fairfield Country Day School. He also spent 15 years as a high school wrestling official.
Chacho's influence extends beyond wrestling. At Bedford Junior High he coached soccer and gymnastics. He ran the summer program at a country club in Riverside for many years. Since 1962 -- for 50 years -- he has served as an American Red Cross instructor.
For the past two decades, Westporters have known Chacho as a preschool teacher. Seamlessly, he transferred his experience working with teenagers to very young children. His patient, engaging, always-smiling manner helped toddlers learn to run, move, play -- and, yes, roll around on a mat.
Despite this litany of accomplishments, Chacho has flown under the radar. In 1977, the Sportsmen of Westport honored him for his years of coaching Westport youth. But wrestling is not a headline sport, and for the most part Chacho has done what he's done out of the spotlight. He's spent countless days -- and nights -- in gyms and wrestling rooms. He helps kids 60 years younger than he -- and assistant coaches he once coached -- haul out mats. Together, they mop them.
They gather around. Chacho teaches moves, then counter-moves to what he's just taught. He runs drills. He pits two wrestlers against each other. He referees their bouts, congratulating the winners and consoling the losers. Afterward he cleans up, talks to parents, plans the next tournament, and takes care of the thousands of little coaching details no one ever sees.
He does it because he loves it. He does not do it for thanks, because that's not what youth coaches -- especially wrestling coaches -- get.
But this spring, thankfully, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame will say it to John Chacho.
For ticket information, visit www.cwhof.ticketleap.com.