Don't call it retiring.

Or quitting.

Rather, Tom Kessler prefers to describe it as a "refocusing" of his coaching career in wrestling when he steps down from the York College head coaching gig at the end of this season.

"You get to a point in time when you know it's time to go," Kessler said last Wednesday evening following practice inside the Grumbacher Center. "Who knows when the right time is? But it kind of feels right."

Kessler, a 1976 Dallastown High School grad, still seems full of energy. So it makes sense that he still plans to stay involved in coaching somehow. He won't rule out helping at the high school level. And his successor, Duane Bastress, still wants him around.

"I'm sure at first he (Kessler) might keep his distance," Bastress said. "We've already talked about it. I'm sure I'm gonna have questions like 'Hey, what would you do in this situation?'"

Those close to the program had assumed Bastress, a 2001 Bermudian Springs grad and former two-time NCAA Division III national champion for York, would be the program's next coach. Bastress has been an assistant for Kessler since graduating from York College in 2006.

The coaching move became official Thursday in an announcement from Paul Saikia, the York College assistant dean for athletics and recreation. It'll mark the first changing of the guard since 1990, when Kessler took over for Rich Achtzehn, who compiled a 184-96 record in 18 seasons as head coach of the Spartans.

Right direction: A 1985 grad of York College, Kessler has put his teaching to good use in the past two-plus decades. He dabbled in working security after getting out of the Air Force in 1981. And he used his bachelor's degree in criminal justice to get a job working as a deputy sheriff for York County in the mid-1980s.

His heart, though, has been in pointing people in the right direction. He did that for 10 years working in alternative education in the Northeastern School District, using his secondary education teaching certificate and masters degree in special education.

Tom Kessler started coaching the York College wrestling team in the early 1990s and will retire after this season.
Tom Kessler started coaching the York College wrestling team in the early 1990s and will retire after this season. (Bil Bowden)

"Those kids in there, no one gave them a chance once they got labeled," Kessler said. "If people knew their stories and their backgrounds they'd think differently."

He's done it for the last 11 years as a social studies teacher at Northeastern Middle School. And the last 23 years turning boys to men at York College through coaching and preaching about life beyond wrestling.

"You look over here on the wall," Kessler said as he glanced at the many plaques inside the wrestling room at the Grumbacher Center. "We have maybe 29 Academic All-Americans. You put that on your resume. I tell all the guys that's one of your goals."

Future: Bastress, who has worked full-time for alternative education program River Rock Academy the last four years, will continue the quest to make the York College coaching gig a full-time position.

It's something Kessler has been pushing for in recent years. And Bastress, 29, believes it needs to happen if the Spartans want to continue being a top program -- York (18-6) is currently No. 15 in the latest NCAA Division III poll.

That would certainly help Bastress follow in the footsteps of Kessler, who has a career record of 322-139-3, plus three National Wrestling Coaches Association Coach-of-the-Year awards to his name.

But even as Kessler steps away from the program, there's a feeling he'll still be there in some form. After all, Bastress will continue to tell grapplers to focus on life beyond wrestling. And he'll adopt the jovial side of Kessler, too.

"He (Kessler) can be serious, but he likes to have fun. I'm the same way," Bastress said. "There's a go-time but there's also a time to enjoy it."

-- Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.