Wrestlers stayed in touch with Snitkin long after wearing NFA's red and white

His death gives us pause, not to mention a new respect for life. And a new respect for the coaching profession. And why you do it.

Because it has been almost 40 years since Darryl MarcAurele wrestled for Cark Snitkin at Norwich Free Academy. That's ample time for life to happen. Plenty of daylights, sunsets, cups of coffee, inches, miles, laughs and strifes, as the song goes from "Rent." And yet MarcAurele can vividly remember the shapes and forms of the old days, because Snitkin was more than his coach.

Bet it's like that for a lot of coaches.

Only they don't know it, dragged down into the morass, unable to see their influence.

"A big teddy bear," MarcAurele was saying about Snitkin, who died last week at 72.

Carl Snitkin: Among the state's greatest high school wrestling coaches. But even better: A man who cared about more than the night's result. Maybe that's why MarcAurele was among the many who stayed in touch with their old coach, long after they were no longer wearing the red and white of NFA.

"I remember his jokes weren't very good," said MarcAurele, who runs Team StrikeZone in Norwich, a mixed martial arts training facility. "I remember he'd pass out Vitamin C tablets all the time. But what I remember the most is after these long practices, he'd yell 'stairs!' Half the guys would try to hide underneath."

MarcAurele, who wrestled for Snitkin in the early 80s, recalled about 103 kids trying out for wrestling his senior year. Snitkin figured out a way not to make cuts.

"We went so hard they all quit," he said.

And that was Snitkin's way. He didn't make his kids work harder than he did.

While he coached wrestling, Snitkin worked as a world class weight lifter. He was a four-time national collegiate powerlifting champion (1969-72) at Springfield College and a member of the United States world championship team in 1971. He won gold in the super heavyweight division at the 1976 Pan American Games, and North American championships in 1980 and 1981.

MarcAurele said his old friend once deadlifted 867 pounds, squatted 837 and benched 516, all records at the time.

Snitkin coached at NFA from 1974-1999, winning 13 conference titles and nine CIAC Class LL state championships. That included winning six straight from 1983-88, a state record at that time. Only Danbury has won more successive CIAC titles (14).

"He commanded respect without having to be in any way seen as a big scary guy," said Dave Nowakowski, who wrestled at NFA for Snitkin and is a consultant for the CIAC wrestling committee.

Snitkin coached 63 wrestlers who won either a Class LL, State Open or New England championship. He had a 471-80-7 record in dual meets, the most in the state when he retired. He was in the charter class of the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003 and was also elected to the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame.

"I remember seeing him (recently) when he wasn't doing well and it was hard," MarcAurele said. "You remember people a certain way. I'll always remember him as a good person that I was very lucky to know."

Our corner of the world has been blessed by some of the best wrestling coaches — coaches, period — in the history of our state. Carl Snitkin and Brian Crudden, who turned Windham into a monument of success, belong on any of the sport's Rushmores along with Rod Leyland, who built Ledyard's powerful wrestling program from scratch in 1966. Their protégés are all over the place now, preaching the gospels of discipline and diligence, without every taking yourself too seriously.

Snitkin made NFA synonymous with wrestling excellence, all the way down to stairs and Vitamin C tablets. Yet his legacy is the loyalty he commanded from all the kids he made work harder than they ever knew they could.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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