The Post-Journal

Thurnau Is Starting Over

After spending 10 years as an assistant wrestling coach at Southwestern Central School and then 27 years as the head coach, Walt Thurnau retired after the 2001-02 season. So that means it is time to relax and reflect back on a successful career with a record of 285-95-1. Right?


Instead Thurnau is “starting over.” That’s because he’s starting up the Jamestown Community College wrestling program from scratch - the Jayhawks haven’t been on the mats since the 1982-83 season under its only coach Bruce Turner.

“I would have been involved (with wrestling) even if the situation at JCC hadn’t opened up,” Thurnau said. “I still would have been helping Mark (Hetrick, his replacement) at high school or helping with the kids program. I owe so much to wrestling that I have to repay that debt.”

But he admitted, “I did not ever envision I would be involved in the college situation.”

But when Thurnau heard JCC was planning to bring back its wrestling program, he made a telephone call to athletic director Bill Burk, whose search for a coach suddenly ended.

“It’s more challenging, but it’s probably more rewarding,” Thurnau said. “It’s been a long time since Bruce was there, so it is like starting fresh. It’s been 19 years.”

So that meant ordering all new equipment and mainly finding wrestlers. However, a half dozen were already enrolled at JCC.

“They were the people initially who were the most excited, the kids that were already here,” Thurnau said of his six sophomores. “They have the opportunity to get at least one more year (of wrestling) at junior college and hopefully go on from there.”

But the rest of the roster was recruited from high school and some through letters and questionnaires sent to schools throughout New York and Northern Pennsylvania.

“I think I got two or three e-mails from prospective wrestlers who heard it through the grapevine that JCC was going to have a team.” Thurnau said. “But a vast majority of the contacts were as a result of kids sending their questionnaires back.”

Before that, Thurnau landed his first recruit last year while he was still coaching at Southwestern.

“The first person to make the commitment was Josh Anderson from Ridgway,” he said. “He’s a four-time JCC high school champion (in the Jamestown Holiday Tournament at JCC), so I’ve seen him for the last five years, and when there was a possibility at JCC would have a team, we talked. The first time I talked to him seriously about attending was at the JCC tournament (in December).”

The remainder of the roster includes wrestlers from nearby high schools such as Falconer, Randolph, Jamestown, Warren, Ripley and of course, Southwestern. But there are also wrestlers from Attica, East Greenbush (near Albany) and Hicksville.

A big attraction is that the program is starting from scratch.

“They all think in the back of their minds they will have pretty much equal opportunity because there was no one who had ‘varsity experience’ over them,” Thurnau said. “Everyone would be right in the same boat.”

And in addition to wrestling, JCC academics have been an attraction.

“The more I talk to prospective kids, and I’m already talking to kids for next year, JCC’s academic program is the biggest plus,” he said, noting the “extras” offered to keep them as competitive in the classroom as in athletics. “Kids are very enthusiastic about the fact that they can transfer to a four-year school.”

College competition will not only be new for the wrestlers, but also their coach.

“It’s a very different atmosphere and it’s difficult for me to learn things like rules for weight certification and different procedures for a college program as compared to a high school program.” Thurnau said. “But everyone at JCC from the people in admissions and (men’s basketball coach) Mike Cordovano, (athletic director) Bill Burke and (women’s basketball coach) Keith Martin and (director of student services) Kaye Young at Main Street (a tutoring center), these people have bent over backwards. I’m sure every time they see me they want to hide because I have all kinds of questions. They’ve helped so much to make the transition as easy as possible.”

Helping out Thurnau as an assistant coach is his son, Tim. And later there will also be Brad Rowe, who won two state wrestling titles at Ripley and was an All-American at Niagara County CC and at Brockport State. He is student teaching at Brocton and helping with the football team, and he will join Thurnau when the football season is over.

“He can tell us what we need to expect,” Thurnau said about Rowe’s experience in NJCAA Region 3 wrestling. “He’s going to be a great asset.”

Although it’s been 19 years, Thurnau hopes to return the program to the success it had under Turner, which included two Region 3 championships and two individual national championships.

“He had one of the most successful junior college programs in the country,” Thurnau said. “When Bruce was at JCC, every time we got a wrestling magazine at the high school we always looked at the junior college things and they were always one of the top 20 junior colleges in the country. That’s our long-term goal, to return the program to that level. It’s lofty, but I think it’s obtainable.”

And his wrestlers agree because they have noticed the regional championship banners hanging in the JCC gym.

“Yesterday at the end of practice one of the kids looked across at the one from when they were regional champions in ’74 and said, ‘Coach, we’ve got to get some new banners.’”

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