The Post-Journal

Thurnau Will Receive Another ‘Hall’ Pass

Coach To Be Inducted To Upstate NY Chapter Of National Wrestling HOF


Today when Walt Thurnau steps up to the podium at the Double Tree Hotel in East Syracuse in acceptance of his induction into the Upstate New York Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, he will not, as other top coaches and athletes are sometimes apt to do, bask in the glory and attention of those around him.

Instead, it's safe to say that he will redirect that praise to those who worked with him, side by side and tirelessly for nearly 40 years, first at Southwestern Central School and finally at Jamestown Community College.

"I'm very surprised and very honored," he said of the induction. "I don't think I deserve it."

Walt Thurnau
Walt Thurnau’s career as a wrestling coach spanned more than 40 years, including stops at Southwestern Central School and Jamestown Community College.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg (left) P-J file photo (right)

While Thurnau is truly humble to a fault, one thing is for certain: he most definitely deserves the honor.

Already a member of the Western New York Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame - he was inducted in 2010 - Thurnau's time at Southwestern and JCC were some of the most successful periods in the schools' history.

At Southwestern, Thurnau led his Trojans to two Section 6 Division 1 championships in 1987-88 and 1994-95. He also won a Class B-2 Championship during that 1994-95 season, coached 17 state qualifiers and two state champions and posted an outstanding overall record of 297-97.

Thurnau was named the Southern Tier Coach of the Year in 1998 and, for the 1994-95 season in which he picked up his 200th career victory and went 14-0 in dual matches and 9-0 in Division 1, he was named The Post-Journal Coach of the Year.

"I have been, as they say, blessed to be in the right place at the right time," said Thurnau, refusing to take credit for his accomplishments.

The longtime Trojan coach retired from high school wrestling in 2002, but instead of taking time away from the sport that he so enjoys, he began coaching at JCC to help a program without direction.

With Thurnau running things the program was quickly back on its feet. As the head coach from 2002 until 2007, Thurnau helped 19 wrestlers qualify for the NJCAA National Tournament. Just a year after taking the top job he was named the Region III Coach of the Year and then in 2004 he was named the NJCAA National Man of the Year.

Among his other successful ventures were his time as president of the Southern Tier Wrestling Coaches' Association and his more than 25 years of running a youth wrestling program at Southwestern.

Clearly, the hall of fame was in his future.

"This is very special," Thurnau said, "but the credit goes to (my assistant coaches) and so many more. They did all the work and all the heavy lifting. It's all due to those people and the hundreds of young men that sacrificed so much and worked so hard to make the program successful. Without them there would have been no program.

"It's all a tribute to them."

According to Thurnau, there is one person who deserves special praise, however. His mentor and friend, Clarence "Flash" Olson.

Olson began the Southwestern wrestling program in 1954 and coached the Trojans for the next 21 years. Thurnau, fresh out of college, was given his first opportunity to coach wrestling thanks to Olson when midway through the season in 1966 the coach gave Thurnau a job as an assistant.

For the next nine years Thurnau watched and learned from Olson before taking over the program in 1975.

"If you had to single out the one person that was most responsible for all of this it would be Flash Olson. He was an outstanding coach and an outstanding gentleman," Thurnau explained. "I was so fortunate throughout my life to have outstanding mentors, especially Flash. He took me under his wing and really taught me everything I know about coaching."

Olson has had a lasting impression on the hall-of-fame coach, so much so that during that perfect 1994-95 season Thurnau dedicated the year to, you guessed it, Flash Olson.

In what is perhaps his greatest tribute to Olson, however, Thurnau has continued the tradition of mentoring and guiding future coaches and has left an indelible mark on area wrestling because of it.

Among Thurnau's pupils are Craig Swanson, who began his wrestling career under Thurnau in the fourth grade and is now the coach of Jamestown and himself a two-time Post-Journal Coach of the Year, P.J. Wendel of Falconer, Todd Conley of Randolph and Chris Fairbanks of JCC.

Swanson, for his part, gave a great deal of credit to the hall-of-famer for his own coaching career.

"He was one of the best influences on my being involved in wrestling and what I learned from him I carried on with me through college and into coaching," he said. "He was always very supportive and was a tremendous influence on me and the way I coach. If I ever had a question about coaching he always had an answer."

Swanson added that he couldn't be happier about his coach's hall-of-fame induction.

"He has put so much time into the sport and touched the lives of so many kids," he said. "He was a different kind of coach - in a good way - and always made wrestling fun."

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