Chris Mary knew the time for him to give up his head coaching position on Canon-McMillan High School’s wrestling team had arrived when his 3-year-old daughter Ava Marie had a question for him.
“She said, ‘Where’s daddy live?’” Mary said. “She wanted to know if she could go visit me at my house.”
If there was any question in Mary’s mind about whether resigning was the right move, it evaporated on that January day last year. Mary was heading to the Virginia Duals and was going to be gone for a long weekend, one of many required for his coaching job. His daughter’s words landed like a punch to the gut.
At Monday night’s Canon-McMillan School Board meeting, Mary resigned after a glorious run, ending a 13-year stay during which the program became one of the elite in the country.
“I knew it was time to do the right thing,” he said. “I had to do this for my family.”
Mary has two daughters – Alivia is 1 year old – and he didn’t want to miss any more time away from them, or his wife, Amy.
“My wife said that the only Triple-A I was going to know from here on out are Alivia, Ava Marie and Amy,” Mary said with a smile.
It’s hard to let go of something you love, but it becomes easier when you let it go for someone you love.
When they are old enough, Mary can tell his daughter what type of coach he was at Canon-McMillan. He can tell them that when he took over the program in 2000, the goal was to bring it up to the standards of a champion.
Mary led the Big Macs to five PIAA team championships over the past three seasons and to four consecutive WPIAL Team Tournament titles, a record for a Class AAA team.
More important, his success at Canon-McMillan helped to swing the power in wrestling to Western Pennsylvania and away from the state’s programs in the east.
Mary’s numbers are mind boggling: a 214-42 record, six individual state champions, 34 state placewinners, 20 WPIAL champions, 72 section champions and 12 consecutive section team titles. Those accomplishments are not just worthy of being in the state hall of fame but national hall of fame as well.
Mary might want his daughters to watch two of the most incredible dual meets held in the history of Canon-McMillan’s program. Both of them resulted in wins over the Big Macs arch rival Central Dauphin: the first a 28-25 win in the semifinals of last year’s PIAA Class AAA Team Tournament and the second a 34-31 victory over CD in the team tournament finals in February. The latter victory came down to the final bout, a 4-3 decision by Brendan Price over Zach Elvin that set off a wild celebration.
“I think what I will remember most,” Mary said, “is picking up Brendan Price in the middle of the Giant Center after that win and knowing we did the unbelievable.”
His wrestlers won’t let Mary forget that moment either.
“We filmed him jumping across the mat when it was over,” said Connor Schram. “We kept running it back and forth. It was pretty funny.”
The Big Macs had such talented teams over the past four years that they have to be measured against the best in WPIAL history. What stood out so many times is the way a new hero emerged.
Michael Hull limped out to win the heavyweight bout against Kiski four years ago for C-M’s first title. In those semifinals, Zach Thomas saved a one-point win over Penn-Trafford with an unexpected pin of Matt Lago at 160. Dalton Macri’s pin in the final bout gave CM its fourth straight team title in a 31-26 win over Franklin Regional. And Price.
There were many others.
Through his 13 years as head coach, Mary proved a great leader, devoted to his wrestlers, and a competitive coach. He had talent, lots of it, but knew how to draw out the best performances at the right time.
Next year, someone else will be sitting in the head coach’s chair, directing a talented team. Mary can bring his daughters to the matches, point to that chair and tell them that’s where he once sat.
And, boy, what a great ride it was for him.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at email@example.com.