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HEISER: York County wrestling loses legendary figure in John Toggas
In sports, the word "legend" sometimes gets tossed around a little casually.
It's often used to describe athletes or coaches who are really very good, not great, and certainly not legendary.
In York County wrestling circles, however, John Toggas was a truly legendary figure.
The longtime West York High School coach is in six separate halls of fame, he was the first York County wrestling coach to reach 300 victories, and he coached three Pennsylvania state high school champions.
Those are some serious coaching credentials.
Unfortunately, Toggas died on Friday in Bensalem at age 83.
His death, however, will not diminish the memories of the man for the people who knew and admired him.
"(West York) lost a great coach, mentor and friend," said Don Lehman, who runs the West York Wrestling Alumni website. "Coach Toggas left a lasting mark on West York wrestling."
Respect from a coaching rival: One of the men who often went head-to-head against Toggas was longtime Dover coach Charlie Jacobs. Both men are in the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Despite being coaching rivals, Jacobs had nothing but respect for Toggas as a coach and a man.
"John loved the sport of wrestling," Jacobs said. "He brought great energy and enthusiasm, which always generated much excitement during any matches with his Bulldogs. His 'Bulldog Pride' caused all opposing coaches to work extra hard to compete with his tough squads."
Fierce competitor: At his heart, Toggas was a fierce competitor. That trait helped the York High graduate compile a 307-110-4 career record at Biglerville (38-32-2 from 1958 through 1964) and West York (269-78-2 from 1964 through 1983 and 1986 through 1991).
"(He) wanted to win every match," Lehman said. "I'm sure the coaches in the county who competed against West York in those days would agree with that."
Despite his competitive streak, Toggas was not stingy with sharing advice with other wrestling coaches.
"He was willing to share with us younger coaches what he thought was important to creating a successful wrestling program," Jacobs said. "He certainly had a tremendous influence on the success of the York County wrestling scene."
Career highlights: One of the highlights of Toggas' career came in his final season in 1991 when his Bulldogs topped Cumberland Valley, 31-28, for his 300th career victory.
Of course, that's just one of many career highlights. Here are a few others:
•He coached three state champions (Dana Luckenbaugh in 1965 and Bill Luckenbaugh and John Sprenkle in 1969). Dana Luckenbaugh was York County's first state champ.
•He was inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1999 and the York Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
•He won five York County League championships, was a two-time York County League Coach of the Year and guided his Bulldogs to the 1971 team title at the prestigious Easton High School Holiday Tournament.
Watching 'his boys' succeed: While Toggas liked winning championships and earning honors, he might have gotten more enjoyment out of seeing his wrestlers excel after leaving West York.
"Many of his athletes continued successful wrestling careers beyond high school, and several were able to give back to the sport by becoming coaches and officials," Jacobs said. "I know he loved seeing 'his boys' achieve that success and recognition on the state and nationals levels."
Lots of support: Lehman said one of the keys to Toggas' success was the wide-ranging support he received from his family and the broader West York community.
"Coach Toggas had a great wife (Mary Jane) and family (son John S. "Moc" and daughter Steph) who came to practically every match," Lehman said. "Coach Toggas also had a great support team in Raymond Troxell (the West York superintendent), Neil Everhart (the West York principal) and coaches Robert Bowers, Whedon Myers, John Sprenkle, Bill Luckenbaugh, etc., throughout his coaching years. West York also had a fabulous fan base for the sport of wrestling and Coach Toggas, along with his booster club, had a lot to do with that."
Maintaining his love for the sport: After retiring as a coach, Toggas maintained his ties to the sport as a high school official and was a member of the NCAA Rules Committee as a high school representative. He also loved to talk about the sport.
"Before he got ill, Coach Toggas would stop by my home every Thursday to sit in my office to chat about everything under the sun," Lehman said. "He loved wrestling and missed all facets of it after he retired."
Lasting legacy: There's little doubt that the York County wrestling community will miss Toggas, as well.
"All of us need to remember and appreciate the great contribution he gave to the great sport of wrestling," Jacobs said. "Thanks, J.T."
That's a lasting legacy for a legendary coach.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.