Fathers in Wresting

Mark Churella embracing his son, Josh, after his final collegiate match in 2008 (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo;

Wrestling is a family sport. Teammates become brothers, the families in the stands become extensions of your own. Some mom adopts the team and becomes the team mom. The long car rides, cramped hotel rooms, early morning workouts, late-night weight cuts, and weekends camping out in the bleachers bond families, blood or otherwise. Some wrestlers get to have their dad as their first coach and you can watch these relationships build and flourish at youth tournaments. One of the best things to witness is a child growing up with the same love of wrestling as their dad, but what about the wrestlers who grew up with legendary wrestlers as fathers?

One wrestling household name from the 80s that has come back around is Carr. Nate Carr Sr. spent four years at Iowa State University, where he became the first Cyclone to win 3 NCAA Championships from 1981-1983. His contribution helped them achieve four top-three finishes as a team. With an impressive 117-20-1 career record at Iowa, he decided to keep wrestling and made a transition to freestyle after college. From making the world team in 1983 and being an Olympic alternate in 1984, Nate quickly found success internationally. In 1986, he won a gold medal at the World Cup and the Pan-American Championships. He returned to the Olympics in 1988 where this time he not only competed, but returned from Seoul with a bronze medal. Making the world team again in 1990, he added another gold medal to his collection at the Goodwill Games.

Nate Carr Sr. spent 12 years coaching at West Virginia University during the peak of his training into his retirement from 1986-1998. During his time as an assistant coach, he sent 64 wrestlers to NCAAs where ten of them became All Americans and two became National Champions. In 1991, his coaching efforts were honored when he was named the NWCA Assistant Coach of the Year. Nate was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003 as a distinguished member for his contribution to wrestling as a competitor and a coach. He is back in Ames as the Associate Director and a coach for the Cyclone RTC where he gets to work closely with his son, David.

David just finished his redshirt junior year at his dad's Alma Mater, Iowa State University. The young wrestler has already achieved great things in college, one of them being making the Carr name popular among a younger generation. He is a three-time Big 12 Champion, three-time All-American, and won the national tournament in 2021, making him a Hodge Trophy finalist. Following in his dad's footsteps, David has found success through freestyle wrestling as well. Outdoing his 2017 Junior Worlds bronze medal, he won the gold in 2019 in Tallinn, Estonia. David recently made the US Senior National Team at 74 kg, which qualified him for competition in Spain in October on the U23 World Team. Now is when the world waits to see if David is going to outdo his dad on the big stage one day.

While David is following in his dad's wrestling footsteps, Nate Carr Jr. is taking a note from his dad on coaching. Nate Jr. has been able to coach with some great coaches during his time with Virginia, Maryland, and the Finger Lakes Wrestling Club where he got to work with the Cornell team frequently. All of this, combined with his college wrestling experience led him to his Assistant Coaching position at Lock Haven University in 2016. Since his time there, the team has had 14 NCAA qualifiers, 3 All Americans, 7 EWL Champions, 2 team EWL Championships, and since their transition to the MAC conference in 2020, 3 Champions and a team Championship this past year. Nate Jr. is also getting his freestyle coaching practice in as Lock Haven just had a wrestler win the U23 World Team Trials. Unfortunately, this was at a different weight so we don't get to see him coach against his dad and brother quite yet, but it is a future possibility.

The University of Michigan wrestling team prides itself on tradition. An integral part of this tradition can be attributed to Mark Churella. The four-time All-American was a three-time NCAA Champion for the Wolverines in 1977-1979. In 1978, he won Most Outstanding Wrestler in his third appearance at NCAAs and the following year was awarded the Big 10 Medal of Honor for his proficiency in scholarship, athletics, and community. Going 132-13 during his college career, Mark has the third-highest career winning percentage in Michigan history at .910 along with countless other top ten appearances in other Michigan records. After his graduation from the Big 10 University in 1979, Mark went on to coach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas until the school cut the wrestling program in 1984. In the short time Mark was with the program, he left a big legacy in the form of the Las Vegas Collegiate Invitational Tournament, or as we know it today: The Cliff Keen Invitational. Mark started this tournament in 1981 and it is still one of the largest college tournaments and a fan favorite due to the talent it brings in. The tournament could stay in Vegas after UNLV wrestling was no more, but Mark came back to his Alma Mater to be an assistant coach from 1985-1987. He then stepped away from the sport to take care of his family and family business.

One thing all wrestlers discover is when they step away from the sport, it's usually temporary. Mark had three sons all follow in his footsteps loving wrestling so the family man didn't stay away long. His oldest, Mark Jr., joined the Wolverine's wrestling team in 1998, earning his varsity letter in 2001. Mark Jr.'s younger brothers, Ryan and Josh, followed suit and became University of Michigan wrestlers in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Ryan, a four-year letter winner, was a three-time Big 10 Champion in 2004-2006 and placed top-four at NCAAs in those same three years. His 117-18 record put him on the record list with his dad with a .867 winning percentage to give him 8th in school history. In 2003, at the end of Ryan's redshirt freshman season, he was awarded the Mark Churella award. This award was first given out in 1984 and is given to the team's most outstanding freshman annually.

Josh Churella was a four-time letter winner and a three-time captain for the Wolverines. He was a Big 10 Champion in 2005 and a three-time All-American including making the 2007 NCAA finals. Being the third Churella to join Michigan's 100 wins club, Josh posted a 124-11 career record, putting him 15th in school history between Mark Sr.'s 11th and Ryan's 19th placement. Josh went on from college to wrestle freestyle for a few years, but ultimately came back to his roots to join the coaching staff in 2013. Since his time with the Wolverines, he has coached five Big 10 Champions, 16 All Americans, and one NCAA Champion, as well as a Big 10 team title this past season. Throughout his coaching career, the Churella family has always been a staple in the stands, which begs the question, is there going to be a third generation of Churella wrestlers at the University of Michigan? We have some time before we'll find out the answer to that one.

One of the more interesting father-son duos in wrestling, is also one that's not really talked about. This would be Dan Chaid and his son's Danny and Mark. Dan, a four-time All-American for Oklahoma won a National title in 1985 for the Sooners hasn't left his shoes on the mat yet. Dan won a gold medal in freestyle at Veteran Worlds this past October. His son, Danny wrestled for Oklahoma for two years before transferring to the University of North Carolina where he qualified for the NCAA tournament twice and in 2017, he finished one round shy of All-American status. Danny is now in Stanford, California as an athlete with the California RTC. It's not very often we get to see fathers wrestling at the same time as their sons. Danny's young brother, Mark, also wrestled at North Carolina, amassing a 28-34 record in Chapel Hill. Mark is expected to finish his eligibility in 2022-23 at The Citadel.

With so many Senior National Team Members starting families of their own, it's easy to look forward to the future and predict who the next big father-son duo will be. Will it be one of Jordan Burroughs's kids since they can never have enough time on the mat with the National Team? Will David Taylor's daughters be lacing up wrestling shoes for a Taylor father-daughter duo? It doesn't really matter who the next big family legacy will be because young wrestlers will always look to their dads who gave them the love of the sport and be able to thank them for passing on the sport and the community. Thank you to all of the wrestling dads for all you do for the athletes and the sport! Happy Father's Day!


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ban basketball (1) about 8 months ago
Callme wacky, call me kooky, or call me crazy, but if a focus is going to be done on an Oklahoma family, wouldn't the Smiths and/or Perrys first come to mind?!
Sheerstress (1) about 8 months ago
The Perrys definitely, as Mark Sr and Jr and Chris were all great wrestlers.

The Smith boys were all great wrestlers, although I don't believe the father, Lee Roy Sr, ever wrestled.
ban basketball (1) about 8 months ago
I was actually referring to John and Joe Smith. I'd still take their accolades over the Chaids, whoever they are.