By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Wrestling Online
NEW HAVEN, February 24 – When Southington High assistant wrestling coach Rob Levesque arrived Saturday for the State Open, he glimpsed Ricky Shook, the long-time coach of No. 1 ranked Danbury.
Instead of the usual blue and white gear that Shook wears to represent Danbury, he was dressed with a red shirt. He wasn’t the only one. Wrestling coaches from around the state were clad in various versions of red – the colors of Berlin High -- to honor the legacy and accomplishments of Berlin’s Hall of Fame wrestling coach Jim Day, who died Thursday at the age of 64 from complications from the flu.
Levesque, who spent many years assisting Day, smiled. It’s been a difficult few days for the Berlin High program and those that Day touched in his long wrestling career.
A week ago, he was at Guilford coaching his Redcoats at the Class M championships. A few days later, he was gone.
A touching ceremony was held before the finals of the State Open Saturday. Dozens of former wrestlers, colleagues and coaches circled the mat. The current Berlin High team came together at the center of the mat and left Jim’s shoes in the center – a traditional move made by wrestlers retiring from the sport.
Rocky Urso, Berlin’s first New England champion, made a short presentation and there was a moment of silence. When it was over, no really moved quickly to leave. The large crowd of Berlin wrestlers and alumni remained together at one end of the gym for much of the finals, consoling and giving each other support.
While the State Open is where the best wrestlers come to compete, it is also a time to reconnect with friends, colleagues and former competitors – people like Day.
For 33 years, Jim was been the wrestling coach at Berlin High School. Many of his wrestlers have competed here. Eleven have won State Open championships, including Nick Arborio, who leaped into arms last February after winning the title at 113 pounds and promptly flattened Day on the mat prompting giggles from the crowd. Four of Jim’s wrestlers went on to win New England championships.
Jim was a fierce competitor. But he was also a friend, a teacher, a mentor. He wasn’t afraid to share his knowledge of the sport to help it grow. He wasn’t afraid to smile, shake your hand or give you a hug if you needed it.
He leaves behind a legacy of achievement in wrestling and for the Berlin High School community.
•Under his leadership, Berlin High won nine state titles in three different classes (Class S, M and L) and 20 Northwest Conference titles from 1982-2007. •He is just one of three coaches in state history with more than 500 career wins. •He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Connecticut chapter. •He is a member of the New England Council’s Wrestling Hall of Fame. •He helped develop the criteria for seeding the CIAC tournaments. •He was a long-time member of the CIAC Wrestling Committee •He led wrestling exchange programs and Connecticut youngsters to Russia, China, Mongolia, Italy and Brazil •He helped organize and coach several Connecticut teams that competed at the USA Wrestling national tournaments in Fargo, North Dakota, each summer.
Outside of the wrestling word:
•He coached freshman football at Berlin for 15 years •He was chair of the school’s Special Education Department for 10 years •He was an advocate for students with disabilities •He served as Berlin’s athletic director – a thankless job for anyone who has taken a second to see what these men and women do for their students and school. •He was a driving force behind the creation of the Berlin Athletic Hall of Fame, which he founded. He served on the Board of Directors.
When Jim walked off the mat in Guilford on Saturday night – for what would be the final time -- there was a big smile on his face. Berlin’s Daniel Veleas won the state championship at 132 pounds with a tight 5-4 victory.
A poetic finale for a man that we already knew was a winner -- on and off the mat.
To his wife, Lynn, his son, Shane, his family, the countless numbers of students, friends and colleagues, we offer our deepest condolences. We will miss him in so many ways.
Visiting hours will be Monday night from 4-7 p.m. at Porter’s Funeral Home, 111 Chamberlain Highway in Berlin. A memorial Mass will be held at St. Paul’s Church, 467 Alling Street in Berlin at 10 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations be made to the Jim Day Memorial Scholarship, c/o Berlin High School, 139 Patterson Way, Berlin, CT 06037.