By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Kyle Gilchrist was in the same boat as most college graduates, trying to decide what was his next step.
Added to that mix for the former Columbia University wrestler was the loss of being part of a team, as he had been since his days as a seventh grader at Jefferson middle school.
Then the phone call came that would tie up all of his concerns and choices. He offered the chance to pursue an MBA at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo while also serving as an assistant wrestling coach under his former coach at Columbia, Brendan Buckley.
“It’s definitely good for me to be back in the team atmosphere and having guys look up to me and count on me,” Gilchrist, the son of Debbi and Iain Gilchrist, said. “I was actually having a little bit of a problem with (not being part of a team anymore) during the summer. I was deciding between what I wanted to do and what I thought I was going to do. I didn’t have the team anymore and couldn’t hang out with the guys. Coach Buckley called with a great opportunity to be a coach and I was all for it.
“One of the things I loved about Columbia was being part of the team and having 20-some guys who understand your lifestyle. We were all rooting for each other and we all had each other backs. I got to experience something not a lot of people get to experience. Now, I get to continue it. I’m grateful for Coach Buckley bringing me out here. It’s exactly where I want to be right now.”
The three-time Star Beacon Ashtabula County Wrestler of the Year had a basic idea of what he was going to do in the short term, but it wasn't something he was completely excited about. Buckley presented him the option that he could fully throw himself into.
“I was probably going to go to grad school closer to home,” Gilchrist said. “I had actually put my application in for graduate school at Kent State. I was going to get my teaching certificate and along the way, look for a high school coaching job close to home.”
“(I would’ve become a coach) at some point,” Gilchrist said. “It’s what I wanted to do. I’m glad the opportunity came sooner rather than later.
“I’m so grateful I don’t have to walk away (from wrestling). That’s all thanks to Coach Buckley, who called with this offer. I’m immensely grateful for this opportunity.”
Gilchrist finished his career at Columbia with an 81-52 record while toiling at 125 pounds for two seasons and 133 for two more. He spend three years under Buckley and his senior year wrestling for coach Carl Fronhofer after four seasons at Jefferson under coach Tom Avsec.
As a senior, he was third at Penn State, fifth at the Michigan State Open and sixth at the Body Bar Invitational and the EIWA Conference Tournament.
At first, becoming a college coach was really something he wasn't sure he was ready for. Those concerns were alleviated relatively quickly. All it took was for Gilchrist to get on the mat and prove his worth.
“I definitely had reservations in helping to coach a college program,” Gilchrist said. “I definitely have the credentials to coach high school, having wrestled Division I in college, but I might not have the necessary credentials that most coaches right out of college have and become coaches, like being an All-American multiple times. Coach Buckley brought me out here because I was one of the hardest workers in the room and I led by example. I’m not a big rah-rah guy. I liked to work hard in the wrestling room. I worked my ass off. He saw that and wanted to bring me out here to help the guys train hard, even though I don’t have the same credentials of the college wrestlers who graduated a year ago have.
“I got used to the guys quickly and they got used to me. Mitch (Monteiro) the other assistant is 26 and Coach Buckley is around 38. With me being the youngest, I can relate to them more. I adapted quickly to them and they adapted quickly to me. It helped once I got on the mat and wrestled with them, too. They were skeptical because I was a new coach, but once I got on the mat and showed them what I have to offer, they quickly learned to respect me. And I adapted to them quickly, too. I love the guys. They’re a great group of guys.”
Gilchrist is working with the lower weights at Cal St. Poly Tech, which suits him well and rounds out the coaching staff.
“It works out,” Gilchrist said. “I am a smaller guy, Coach Buckley is about 165 or 170, so he’s perfect for the middle weights and Mitch Monteiro, the other assistant, was a heavyweight for Cal St.-Bakersfield. He’s perfect for the bigger guys. We have a nice mix.”
Having wrestled for a number of good coaches, including his own father over the years, Gilchrist has been exposed to a number of different coaching styles. He has taken bits and pieces from each of them in order to be the best coach he can.
“I have my own style,” Gilchrist said. “But I do try and mold myself after the guys who have coached me. Bringing in more perspectives helps. Everyone has a unique style of coaching. Bringing more perspectives in helps my coaching style and improves me as a coach.”
As a grappler who just finished his career, Gilchrist still gets on the mat and tussles with his charges to help them improve. At times, that old competitive spirit comes out. But he also understands his role now is to prepares others to win, not himself.
“At Columbia and in high school, I had the mindset in practice that I would never give up a takedown,” Gilchrist said. “I fall back into that mindset with my guys of wanting to be dominant. I have to remind myself that with my guys, when they get good position to let them fight then get the takedown and get position to help their confidence. But getting beat always makes you better, too.”
Serving as a college assistant opens some doors to Gilchrist's future. However, he isn't exactly which path it will ultimately lead him down.
“I wasn’t thinking about my own college program,” Gilchrist said. “The MBA program is a two-year program here, so I’ll finish this year and have next year to complete the program. After that, if I don’t get kept by Cal Poly, I’ll move to another coaching position in either college or high school and be an assistant. I wouldn’t say I want my own college program just yet. I don’t think I’m ready for that. There’s so much more that goes into running your own program.”
He may, down the line, decide he would like his own college program.
“If things fall into place,” Gilchrist said. “You never know what could happen. I wasn’t expecting to get an assistant’s job at Cal Poly. You never know what could happen. I don’t really think, at this point, that I’m thinking too far ahead. Right now, I’m just thinking about one day at a time and looking at what I want to do. My dad gets on me all the time about planning my life out.”
College guys aren't the only wrestlers under Gilchrist's tutelage. He also is the head coach in the Meathead Wrestling Club for youth wrestlers. It's a drastic difference from working at Cal State Poly tech, which is a Division I program that competes in the PAC 12.
“Working with the guys at Cal Poly and then going to youth practices is definitely a little different,” Gilchrist said. “I have to tone it down for the little guys. Working out with and helping the high-level Division I guys and helping the little kids in elementary school has been great so far. It’s been a lot of fun. I have a couple of tough little guys in the youth group.”
He enjoys working with the young kids, though.
“It takes me back to when I was just starting out in the Jefferson youth program,” Gilchrist said. “Teaching the little guys the fundamentals of wrestling is something special. I love it. I love seeing the kids have fun with it. All I want is for the kids to enjoy practice, wrestle around and learn some new moves.
“They work pretty hard for me. Like I said, I have to tone it down. They’re just kids and they like to goof around.
Youth wrestling in California is a bit different from youth wrestling in Ohio.
“It’s different in terms of it’s not as big here, at least not in San Luis Obispo and the surrounding areas. It’s not as popular as it is back east. There aren’t as many youth programs as there are in Ohio. What we’re trying to do is get the word out and get more press for the program and get more kids interested to expand it a little bit.”
The youngsters enjoy the fact that Gilchrist is a college coach who works with them.
“It definitely helps with some of the kids,” Gilchrist said. “Our administration guy, who used to be the coach, is trying to step back and let me take over. When he introduces me to the kids, he tells them I’m an assistant at Cal Poly. I can see it does pique their interest more than if I were just a dad running the program. I can tell at the camps for Cal Poly, when they meet the college kids, they get excited. That’s who they look up to and want to be like. It’s great for them.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.