Thirteen years ago, Canon-McMillan High School hired Chris Mary to breathe new life into a wrestling program that needed a different direction.
Not even the most optimistic fan could have realized just how great a job Mary would do.
Mary built a powerhouse program that propelled the Big Macs to elite status not just in Pennsylvania but the country.
Now, Mary has decided it’s someone else’s turn to lead.
Mary submitted his letter of resignation at the Canon-McMillan School Board meeting Monday night. Mary felt he needed to spend more time with his family, especially daughters Ava Marie, 3, and Alivia, 1.
“It was a very hard decision, very emotional,” said Mary. “I asked the board to keep me on as a volunteer (assistant). I want to thank (board member) Manuel Pihakis for hiring me in 2000. (Athletic director) Guy Montecalvo has been a strong supporter throughout my career. I want to thank my brother Phil for his mentoring through some stressful times. I want to thank the wrestlers, coaches and fans.”
The school board presented the wrestling team with plaques to show appreciation for their accomplishments.
Glenn Haynes, 33, who has been an assistant coach for 14 seasons, said he won’t be a candidate for the head coaching job, but would like to remain an assistant.
“I love being here,” Haynes said. “This has been unbelievable. We had a lot of heartbreaks, but it finally happened for us. It was great to coach with Chris. He taught me about character, and he taught the kids to be men.”
Another assistant, Jason Cardillo, said he would like to be a candidate for the job.
Mary guided the Big Macs to unprecedented success over the past three years, winning five PIAA team titles: three at the individual tournaments held in March and two more in the PIAA Team Tournaments held in February.
Canon-McMillan wrestled state rival Central Dauphin in the last two PIAA Team Tournaments, victories that will go down as two of the greatest, if not the greatest, in the program’s illustrious history.
The Big Macs defeated Central Dauphin 28-25 in last year’s semifinals and 34-31 in a match that was not decided until the final bout, a 4-3 decision by Brendon Price of Zach Elvin.
“I think what I will remember most is picking up Brendon Price in the middle of the Giant Center after that win and knowing we did the unbelievable.”
Mary has been honored by many publications but two stand out: He was named National High School Wrestling Coach of the Year by Wrestling USA Magazine and Eastern Region Coach of the Year by the Open Mat last season. He also was named Pennsylvania Wrestling Coach of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association last month, and is up for the national award, which is expected to be announced this month.
“It was a great overall experience,” said Connor Schram, a four-time finalist and two-time state champion. “I got close to him. He’s a good guy and a good coach. I’m sad to see him go.”
The Big Macs performances at the last two state individual tournaments were overwhelming: four state champions, two state runners-up and a third-place finish. Last year, the Big Macs placed eight wrestlers on the medal stand. In what had to be a first in PIAA history, the placements ran from first to eighth.
Canon-McMillan dominated the WPIAL, winning four team tournament titles, a record for a Class AAA team. The Big Macs’ success brought them into the discussion of greatest wrestling team in WPIAL history.
Unlike his brother Phillip, a two-time state champion at Chartiers-Houston, Chris Mary was more of a brawler than technician, and his tough style propelled him to great success in his wrestling career at C-H.
Chris Mary was a three-time state medalist, finishing third twice and second once. He was a three-time WPIAL champion and a three-time section champion.
He was a three-time finalist at the California Christmas Tournament, later renamed Powerade Christmas Tournament.
Mary was part of the 1982 Chartiers-Houston team that won the PIAA Class AAA Team Tournament despite having a Class AA enrollment.
He finished his high school career with a 98-6-3 record and was named Outstanding Wrestler in the 1984 Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic.
The Mary file
13 Seasons at Canon-McMillan
PIAA team titles: 5
WPIAL team titles: 4
Section titles: 12
State Champions: 6
State Placewinners: 34
WPIAL champions: 20
Section champions: 72