The start of Farmington resident Frank Chaves’ career as the Simsbury High wrestling coach hardly presaged that he and the team were on the road to greatness.
Indeed, with Chaves - who never wrestled competitively in high school or college - at the helm, the Trojans went a combined 1-29 in the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.
Halls of fame aren’t exactly filled with people with nearly no pedigree in the sport in which they coached, or who started their careers with a .033 winning percentage after 30 matches.
Fast forward to 2013, however, and Chaves defied the odds, as he along with five others will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on April 20.
Over a span of 29 years, Chaves compiled an impressive 452-194-5 record, with 12 Central Connecticut Conference West titles, two state Class L championships (1995, 1997) and a Class LL title (1992), beating Danbury by three points. Simsbury High had 24 winning seasons in 29 years, and finished in the top five of the Class L and Class LL tournaments 16 times. Twelve wrestlers coached by Frank won State Open championships and two earned New England titles, according to a press release.
Not bad for someone who wrestled only briefly in junior high school when he was a kid. He fell into the Simsbury High head coach coaching job because there was a vacancy.
“I was coaching football at the time,” Chaves said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “They made a change and a lot of the kids who were wrestling were football players. They asked me if I would do it. I said, ‘Sure.’”
Through hard work and, perhaps a little naivete - he was just 22 when he took over as coach - Chaves built the program from the ground up, starting with 10 or 11 kids that first year. Chaves took his rudimentary understanding of wrestling, attended coaching clinics and took advice from other coaches.
His teams didn’t have a losing record from 1980, when the Trojans went 9-7, through his retirement as a coach after the 2005-06 season. He retired as a physical education teacher in Simsbury in 2010.
“Coaching is coaching, not matter what sport it is,” he said. “You can be an Olympic champion, but if you can’t relate to the kids, you’re going to be a terrible coach.”
Yet for all the achievements and accolades he received afterward - which includes his induction into the New England Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004 - the most satisfaction that he got from coaching wasn’t from the championships, but from watching kids progress from freshman to senior year.
“When you wrestle, you are all by yourself,” Chaves said. “You have to have confidence in yourself.”
But Chaves said that wrestling teaches kids that confidence can be a skill acquired through hard work.
“From your freshman year, when you step out onto that mat, to be successful you have to go through a lot of growing pains,” he said. “Especially at the beginning, you’re going to have setbacks and losses. To see kids overcome that when they become juniors and seniors [was the most rewarding]. Hopefully it helped them later on. A lot of hard work goes a long way. You have to work for it.
“No one is a CEO of a company right out of college. You get to that point through hard work.”
And that hard work also applies to Chaves, who, after all the years he put in as a coach and now as a referee, is receiving one of wrestling’s highest honors in this country.
“I was pleased, of course,” Chaves said of learning of his Hall of Fame selection. “It’s the culmination of 29 years of coaching.”
Chaves said that, more than anything, he wanted to express his gratitude to the Simsbury parents.
“I just appreciate that they trusted me with their kids over the years,” he said.
The induction ceremony is April 20 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the MGM Grand Hotel at Foxwoods
Tickets are $85 for adults and $25 for children 12 and under. To purchase tickets online, visit cwhof.ticketleap.com or http://cwhof.ticketleap.com/ct-wrestling-hall-of-fame-banquet/.