The Jamestown Gazette
by Bill Burk
January 14, 2013
A Tribute to Walt Thurnau
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
Harry S. Truman
Harry Truman is Walt Thurnau's favorite Democrat (a decidedly short list), he told me so. At the 32nd annual Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet on February 18 at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club, "Coach" Thurnau will join the distinguished members of that institution. I can't guarantee how the ceremony will unfold, but I can guarantee that he will deflect credit like a real life mirror, reflecting excellence and competence back onto the crowd. That's simply the way he is, unassuming and deferential. Ask him to comment on his hall of fame career and he'll say, "...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. It's all a tribute to them."
Sorry Coach, but that day in February will be a tribute to you; credit coming due, Harry Truman will have to get over it. Witness Coach's remarkable resume; member of the Western New York Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame, 36 year Southwestern High School coach where he led his Trojans to two Section 6 Division 1 championships, won a Class B-2 Championship, coached 17 state qualifiers and posted an overall record of 297-97. He was named the Southern Tier Coach of the Year in 1998 and in 1994-95 he picked up his 200th career victory and went 14-0 in dual matches and 9-0 in Division 1. After retiring from teaching he started a second coaching career at Jamestown Community College where he helped 19 wrestlers qualify for the NJCAA National Tournament, and was named the Region III Coach of the Year in 2002, and in 2004 was named the NJCAA National Man of the Year. He coached two high school All-State wrestlers (David Bush and Chad Wilcox) and two NJCAA All-Americans (Dan Rosemier and Dusty Truver). He was president of the Southern Tier Wrestling Coaches' Association and for more than 25 years he ran the youth wrestling program at Southwestern.
Those are the tangible accolades. Moreover his legacy will be measured by the men he mentored. If you're in the world of wresting in Chautauqua County, you recognize the list of his protégés; Craig Swanson - Jamestown HS, P.J. Wendel - Falconer, Todd Conley - Randolph, Chris Fairbanks and Dusty Truver - Jamestown Community College, Tyler Northrup, Jeff Swan, John Conley, Dayne Priester and Chris Certo - SW Youth Wrestling, Tim Thurnau - West Seneca East HS and JCC, David and Mikel Bush - Freedom HS, Russ Germaine - Marshall HS, Jimmy Nelson, Tim Stevens, Ken Trimmer, and Doug Baer - Southwestern, Lou Golando - Wrestling Official, Dave Golando - Dunkirk, Scotty Wendel - North Carolina.
Try to imagine this cascading pyramid of influence - wrap your mind around the lives influenced. Hundreds of direct contacts with his student-athletes over the years, and thousands of attached limbs growing from the body of work; every year more young men soaking up life lessons generated from Coach.
I had the great pleasure of working with Coach Thurnau, and this is the legacy he leaves with me:
Every day during wrestling season - for 9 straight years - I watched him grab the mop and clean the mats. Every single day.
Every home tournament I watched him roll mats and carry them up a flight of bleachers to get the facility ready for practice the next day.
Every year he came into my office and asked for LESS than he deserved and LESS for his team in order to make the Jayhawk athletics department stronger.
Every year he came to me with issues of budget, eligibility, staffing, equipment, and practice schedule, AND with solutions that turned those issues into non-issues.
And every year I knew I could count on him for whatever was needed to make JCC a better place.
If you know Coach Thurnau you know what it means to bite the bear; you know what his "senior moments" add up to; you understand that he's "haingin' in." You also know that when Coach shakes your hand it stays shook. He's one of those men who's figured it out; happy satisfaction, the patience to understand what can be done, confident that he can either do it, or be okay with the idea that he cannot. The accolades and awards have piled up for Coach Thurnau, but they are almost ethereal and secondary compared to what he has accomplished when you realize the lessons he's taught by example. One measure of a man is, after all, answering the question, each for himself, would I want to be like him? For me and Walt Thurnau, that answer is yes.