Whether on the wrestling mat or in achieving career goals, Kyle Gilchrist has always had a firm grasp on things.
Now the 2008 Jefferson graduate finds himself grappling with an opponent — the coronavirus — that doesn’t play by the rules and, at least so far, has avoided being pinned.
Gilchrist, 30, is the only wrestler from Ashtabula County to place in the top four at the state tournament in Columbus three consecutive years. In his sophomore year, he finished second at 103 pounds. Both his junior and senior seasons he wound up fourth, at 112 and 119, respectively to Uhrichsville Claymont's Cody Garbrandt, who was coached by a Jefferson High School alumnus, Eric Toukonen.
Gilchrist came as close to winning a state championship his sophomore year, but St. Paris Graham's David Taylor defeated him 10-2 in the 103 finals. Gilchrist lost in the semifinals to Garbrandt 1-0 at 112 and 6-5 (OT) at 119 his junior and senior seasons, respectively.
The match between the two in Gilchrist’s senior year was a heartbreaker. He led 3-0 with 30 seconds left but Garabrandt pulled off two takedowns in the final seconds to tie it, then won in the second overtime, 6-4.
“I just don’t know what happened,” Gilchrist said afterward.
The son of Iain and Debbi Gilchrist (Iain was a star wrestling and tennis player at Madison and coached Kyle early in his career), Gilchrist was also a four-year letter-winner in soccer and starting second baseman in baseball at Jefferson. He was a senior captain for the Falcons soccer team.
Like most young athletes, Gilchrist enjoyed the contributions of his parents.
“I really owe a lot to my parents for all their support,” he said. “They’ve done so much for me."
Much more than an athlete, Gilchrist was a true scholar-athlete, recording a perfect 4.0 GPA and serving as class valedictorian.
“I’ve always put a priority on my grades,” he said. “It’s the most important thing I do.”
Those words were uttered on the occasion of his acceptance in one of his three Star Beacon Scholar-Athlete of the Year selections, a record that can’t be broken since the award is no longer presented.
“Kyle has always given everything he had,” Falcons wresting coach Tom Avsec said after Gilchrist’s senior season. “I was just glad to be part of it."
Gilchrist was such a good student that Ivy League schools vied for his commitment. He finally chose Columbia University in New York City over Princeton. Between graduation from Jefferson and beginning at Columbia, Gilchrist finished second in the AAU National Duals at 119 for the second time with an 11-1 record.
He made the Lions varsity as a freshman but, wrestling at 125, posted just a 12-11 record and not up to his lofty standards. As a consequence, he renewed his efforts in his work at wrestling camps, like lifting weights and running. That led to a 24-10 record as a sophomore, the best mark on the Lions team.
After wrestling at 125 for his first two years at Columbia, Gilchrist moved up to 133 as a junior and senior. He finished with a career record of 81-52. In his senior year, Gilchrist was third at Penn State, fifth at the Michigan State Open and sixth at the Body Bar Invitational and EIWA Conference Tournament.
When he entered Columbia, Gilchrist's first plan academically was to major in history with the intention of becoming a history teacher-wrestling coach at a high school.
As his college graduation neared, Brendan Buckley, who had recruited Gilchrist and was his former wrestling coach at Columbia, offered him a job assisting Buckley at California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo while working on his master’s degree.
“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 told the Star Beacon in 2013. “Coach Buckley called with a great opportunity to be a coach and I was all for it.”
Gilchrist spent 2012-2014 assisting Buckley with the lower weights and getting his MBA. Then, Buckley put him in touch with Ian Shaw, the coach at Clovis West High School in Fresno, California.
Gilchrist became a coach there while working on his accreditation in English. He is now the Director of Wrestling (the school’s term for head coach) at Clovis West.
“I’ve been teaching world history and college and career readiness at Clovis West the last two years as well [as English], since I have my history degree from Columbia,” Gilchrist said.
The Fresno area is a hotbed of wrestling, according to Gilchrist, who coached three state placers at Clovis West this year.
“The Fresno area has been one of the top three areas in the country in producing Division I-level athletes,” Gilchrist said. ”Clovis has always had a strong program."
California schools were fortunate to get their full season in, including the state tournaments. Ohio wrestling teams were not so lucky. The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of the state championships.
While they were closed for a few months, California recently allowed sports, like wrestling, to resume practices as long as pandemic guidelines were followed.
Social distancing naturally puts severe limitations on practices, especially considering how much contact is necessary in wrestling.
Gilchrist discusses coaching wrestling during COVID-19.