By Terri Lynn Oldham House
At the beginning of the school year, it remained uncertain if Pagosa Springs High School (PSHS) would have a wrestling season.
COVID-19 cases had spiked and the program had to be postponed.
But when he got the go-ahead, coach Dan Janowsky was prepared for almost anything,
However, on the second day of that season, Janowsky tested positive for COVID-19. He found himself forced to quarantine.
According to Janowsky, “The show went on with some parent support.”
Then, right before regionals, three of the team’s wrestlers almost had to quarantine due to a COVID exposure in a classroom.
The school’s leadership team and administration checked seating charts and measured distances between students, which allowed for the athletes to get a variance and allow for them to wrestle.
The rest is history.
On Monday evening, the man who brought wrestling to Pagosa Springs in 1972, coach Ron Shaw, spoke to the crowd in attendance at the Pirates’ first-ever state wrestling championship celebration held in the high school parking lot.
Being able to watch the boys wrestle in the past has always been a highlight for Shaw. “And this year, they took it away,” Shaw said, referring to COVID-19 restrictions not allowing for spectators at wrestling events.
When Shaw got word that “we had won the state tournament and that we were champions, I got tears in my eyes.”
Good memories from the past gives Shaw hope for better days to come.
He attributed the championship to the team working together, moving forward and never giving in or quitting.
“You’ve made history,” he stated.
Shaw expressed his appreciation for the gift the team gave to the community.
“Combined with your dedication and hard work, the team had an outstanding and supportive cast made up of dedicated, caring, intelligent coaches from peewees, junior high and into high school. People who encouraged them to become the best that they could be,” he said.
“From the first time you took the mat as wrestlers across from an opponent they joined a brotherhood that will always be a part of you,” he continued.
David “Hammy” Hamilton was the next speaker. Hammy coached with Janowsky in the 1990s.
Hammy spoke of what separates Pagosa Springs’ wrestling program from others. He attributed the following statement to his little brother: “Other high school wrestling programs teach boys how to wrestle. Pagosa Springs High School’s wrestling program teaches them not only how to wrestle, but to be men of character.”
Hammy expressed his gratitude to Janowsky for mentoring his own sons through the wrestling program. Both of his sons attribute learning how to do hard things in their lives to “Coach J.” One son said that his ability to endure and persist in the face of adversity was due to the to the training he received on the mat.
Hammy commended Janowsky for this year’s achievement and for building individual champions, men of character, throughout his 40 years of coaching.
Myron Stretton, former PSHS wrestling state champion, focused on the historical perspective and how difficult it is to accomplish winning a state championship.
“We’ve never had seven placers before in the semifinals,” Stretton said.
He also attributed this year’s accomplishments to the result of many things over many years, including High Rollers fundraisers where Janowsky’s brother Andy’s band entertained the crowds, along with parents getting kids to tournaments and practice, and more.
“It is all a big undertaking and everything in the past and present contributed to this win,” Stretton explained the huge impact of the coaches and also credited the junior high wrestling program and the kid’s program.
“The common thread through it all is Coach Janowsky,” he said.
Before he joined the high school wrestling staff, Janowsky had been asked to coach high school basketball.
“I thank God that didn’t happen,” said Stretton.
He gave credit to Janowsky for the tremendous impact the Wrestle the World camps made on Pagosa’s wrestling program. “Our exposure to great wrestling is truly second to none and we have Coach Janowsky to thank for that.”
“One thing that separates great coaches from those that are merely successful is that while winning is a goal common to both, winning isn’t how great coaches define success. A great coach understands that his impact on individual lives is far more important than his win-loss record,” concluded Stretton.
Three-time state champion Cameron Lucero said that winning the tournament by 30 points, “It isn’t just winning, it’s dominating that tournament.”
When it was his turn to speak, Janowsky averted the attention from himself to his team while speaking of his many blessings.
He talked about wrestling mindset and being grateful for the opportunity to wrestle. He writes about that mindset in the championship section in this week’s paper.
Janowsky encouraged his wrestlers to “be grateful for everything and entitled to nothing.”
“The world doesn’t owe us anything,” he added.
As the sun went down and the temperatures continued to drop, the crowd’s hearts were warmed by Janowsky and his stories of his team, his coaches and former coaches.
“Our success is definitely a team effort,” he stated.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the parking lot when Janowsky turned his thanks to his brother, Andy, who gave so much of himself to support the PSHS wrestling program over the years.
You see, Andy passed away unexpectedly from complications of COVID-19 on Feb. 10.
Andy was Janowsky’s confidant. His best friend. Andy wasn’t able to be there in person at the tournament to support his brother.
The boys on the wrestling team came up with “#AndyStrong” shirts to wear in support of their coach and his brother.
Janowsky explained that while his coaching team wore the “proper attire” for coaching at a state competition, he wore his #AndyStrong shirt.
“I wanted my brother with me,” he said.
We think it was most appropriate.
We are certain Andy was there with his brother and the whole team for the championship win.