By Mark Schnabel
It's been an emotional last few weeks for Jack Thaw.
The longtime Railer wrestling coach, former Newton wrestler, football player and baseball player has been named to the Newton Athletic Hall of Fame, and will be inducted Friday during ceremonies at the Newton-Campus football game.
In addition, Thaw has been rehired as the Railer wrestling coach, beginning his second tenure with Newton. He coached 21 seasons at Newton (1974 to 1996), and then went on to lead the programs at Halstead and Sedgwick for 17 years. He teams have finished as high as third in the state, and he has coached numerous state champions and medalists. He is a three-time state coach of the year.
Thaw succeeds Jude Wilson, who left the position after being promoted to assistant principal and athletic director at Chisholm Middle School.
"I was hoping I would be, but I took it kind of casual," Thaw said. "They said it would be a while. I wanted to get back to my Halstead people, and not leave them hanging. When he said it, I'm not a real exuberant person, but when (Newton activities director) Brian (Engelken) asked me if I would take it, I said yes, 'Thank you for the opportunity.' I'm enthused about it."
Thaw was let go as Newton coach in the 1990s without explanation.
"I was a little apprehensive about it, because I didn't want to go through that again," Thaw said. "I was never given a reason why. I didn't do anything wrong. It was by a few people. I didn't want to revisit that. My wife said, 'new board, new everthing.' I want an opportunity to win a state championship."
Thaw inherits a team that is a two-time Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I champion, finishing undefeated both years. The team finished seventh in Class 5A state last year after a second-place finish in 2012.
Thaw expects to have two state medalist and several other state qualifiers return. He also returns a number of other strong wrestlers, along with good middle school and club wrestlers coming up.
"We've got more kids out," he said. "We have a good middle school program. We have 40 or 50 kids out. ... The last three years have been really good. Jude has done a really good job with the program. We have some state medalists coming in, we have state qualifiers coming back. We have guys who didn't even have the chance to go to state coming back. We have some good young kids coming up. I'm not going to say I'm going to come in in one year and win everything, but we have a good nucleus."
Newton's next state medalist will be the Railers' 100th.
Thaw said several other Railer wrestlers need to be inducted, including Glenn White and Bruce White, both state champions.
"They were great wrestlers," Thaw said. "I think Glenn would still have the record for eight straight pins, from regionals, districts and state."
Thaw said his only regret of his first tenure was not winning a state title.
"We got third three times," he said. "One year, we had five in the finals."
The season after his dismissal, he went on to Halstead. Later, Halstead would combine with Sedgwick in a cooperative agreement. While the teams were never very big, they produced several individual state titles. His highest team finish was fourth at state with three wrestlers at state.
"We had five state champions, 13 other state medals," Thaw said. "We did that without a lot of kids coming out. We never won a lot of duals. I was comfortable there, but I still had that urge to win. There were some duals, where we never had a chance to tie. We'd have 14 weight classes and six guys, and you're hoping they're open."
Thaw is a three-time state medalist at Newton, wrestling from 1964 to 1968, taking second once and fourth twice. He also played football and baseball at Newton.
"My first love was baseball," Thaw said. "I went out for wrestling because I had a friend go out. He later quit and I stayed in it. I loved it and wrestled at every level. I'd rather wrestle and lose, than do anything else."
He went on to wrestle at Pratt Community College and Adams State, where he placed one year at the National Junior College Athletic Association nationals and one year in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics nationals. He was third in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference twice and was a member of the team national champion. He was an All-American as a junior.
"Wrestling was big at Adams State," he said. "You had to get there early to get a seat. We wrestled a university schedule. We wrestled a lot of Division I colleges."
He placed in the top 20 twice in the U.S. Olympic Trials (1972 and 1976). He had to compete at a regional tournament to advance to the national trials. Wrestling was recently reinstated into the Olympic program.
"I don't see wrestling not being part of the Olympics," he said.
He credits much of his success to former coach Manford "Spec" White.
"Wherever he went, he won," Thaw said. "His three best friends won at the Olympics."
His wife, JoAnne, has been gymnastics coach for the past 40 years, winning three state team titles. Jack also serves as JoAnne's assistant with the gymnastics team.
Winning has been a family affair for the Thaws. His brother Don won state wrestling titles. Both sons — Jack Jr. (J.J.), and Justin — both won state wrestling titles. Daughters Jahreé and Janae both placed at state in gymnastics. All four went on to college as a result of their high school accomplishments.
"By the grace of God, all my kids were better athletes than me," Thaw said. "... The kids winning that title was very important to me. Janae was an All-American cheerleader, as well as a great gymnast. Jahreé got second on the beam at state. She still has one of the all-time scores on the beam. When she was a junior, she had a 9.7-something with one girl to go, and that girl beat her. All of them got scholarships — Janae academically, J.J. and Justin athletically. Jahreé danced. She danced at Stephens College in Columbia (Mo.)."
J.J. has been an assistant wrestling coach at Newton for several years.
"J.J. knows all the kids and all the records," Thaw said. "So does Brian Rickard. My focus is to keep as big a team as we can and as happy a team as we can. I'm still going to be me. I'm not a mean guy, but I can be a hard guy. ... It's an honor."