Charlie Young: From Undefeated Football Team to Wrestler Revolt–And Beyond

by Schuyler Van Horn of the Little Falls Historical Society with addendum by Bob Grant.

Known as “Chub” by his family and close friends, Charlie Young was anything but fat. Born in Hornell, New York, educated during the 1930s Great Depression at the University of Wyoming and University of Iowa, he taught and coached at LFHS for over two decades, and left an indelible mark.

Both Coaches Wilbur Crisp and Charlie Young were legendary figures. Dr. Donald Staffo has written a book about Coach Crisp. I felt it was time to ink something about Coach Young, who made a significant difference in the lives of his football players and wrestlers. Charlie, as he was known to his athletes, never had a state championship football or wrestling team, but fifty years after his retirement, his “boys” still wax eloquent about the man.

He was first and foremost a family man.

Married 66 years, he and Adelaide had five daughters and 13 grandchildren. He also was an avid hunter, snow skier, and bowler. A devout Christian who piously and quietly sat every Sunday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, he was anything but quiet in the rest of his life. He rode a big honking BMW motorcycle til late in his 60s. Once near the Little Falls Thruway exit, he blew a front tire, and went head over teacup. His leather outfit partially protected him. Urban legend has it that instead of waiting for an ambulance, he hiked to the Little Falls hospital. Next day he came to school all black and blue.

For two plus decades he patrolled the gym and halls of LFHS with the same close-cropped crewcut. He usually wore an expression like someone who would punch his head through a wall. Like most children of the Depression, neither he nor his parents had money for college. Graduating from Hornell high school, he took a post grad year so he could play more football. He then went to the University of Wyoming with another fellow from Hornell. Offered a scholarship of sorts, he lived in a fire hall in return for cleaning, maintenance and security. It was at Wyoming that he played both football and wrestled. But it was also there that his wrestling career had its beginning and end. Weighing in at 175, the coach felt he needed a bigger challenge. Hence at practice he was paired with the heavyweight. The result was a neck injury that caused him severe pain for the rest of his life. After two years at Wyoming, he transferred to the University of lowa. He graduated in 1940 with a BS in Physical Education and a minor in math.

Coach Young during his playing days in 1939 at the University of Iowa.

Coach Young during his playing days in 1939 at the University of Iowa.

From 1940 to 1942 he taught physical education in Burlington, lowa.

There he met the love of his life, Adelaide, who was teaching in a local grade school. Following Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy, married Adelaide, and went to gunnery school. He turned down a commission. He served aboard the “Ranger” in the north Atlantic, and the “Hornet” in the Pacific. Ranger, the first US vessel designed and built from the keel up as a carrier, saw action off the coast of Norway. Hornet, another heavy aircraft carrier, was commissioned in 1943, entered the Pacific war in the spring of 1944. She participated in the Battle of Midway along with the USS Yorktown and Enterprise. Her crew was awarded eleven battle stars for exemplary WW2 service.

Following the end of the war, Coach returned to Hornell, and taught in the Bath school system. In 1947, he was hired by the Little Falls Central School District, and the family moved to Little Falls. Over his long career (he retired in 1973) in Little Falls, he coached football, basketball, wrestling, baseball, and track. Most people would be surprised that he coached basketball, since Coach Crisp was well known for taking his basketball teams to a state championship and several sectional championships. But small-town politics reared its ugly head. Apparently Crisp got into an argument with a board member about his son’s playing time, and for several years Charlie coached basketball and Crisp wrestling.

But Charlie had great success in 1948 when the football team went undefeated. In fact, it was the only undefeated team in LFHS history. Captained by Ted Wind. the former mayor of Little Falls, the team beat Gloversville (16-14), Johnstown (7-6), Frankfort (13-6), Richfield Springs (27-7), Herkimer (27-6), but the season ended with a tie with Mohawk. In the Herkimer game Bill Vosberg scored four touchdowns on 276 yards. The Richfield Springs players brought their own water in milk cans, not trusting the Little Falls water. The assistant coach for the team was George Cummings, who was a long-time principal at the high school. It seems the football team tried to play a trick on Coach Young following the Johnstown game. The team piled on the bus and the driver asked where the coaches were who had accompanied the team to the game. Someone said they were riding home with others–not true. About 11:00 PM that night the whole team–in violation of their curfew–were at Mihevc’s Custard Bar. Out of the dark (like a ghost) walked Coach Young who politely said,”Hi Fellows.” The following Monday’s practice was never forgotten by the team.

1948 Undefeated Little Falls Football Team with Coach Young.

1948 Undefeated Little Falls Football Team with Coach Young.

The following season was a success, but it was not an undefeated season. Opponents included a Syracuse team, Amsterdam, and Norwich. Most of us remember during the 50s, 60s, and 70s that LFHS was in the Iroquois League, which consisted of Herkimer, Mohawk, Ilion, Frankfort. Oneonta, Norwich, and Little Falls.

Little Falls has had football for over 100 years. Coach Young’s first love was football, followed closely by wrestling.

Charlie coached the football team til 1961. Wresting at LFHS started in 1933 with Wilbur Crisp coaching. Crisp also coached the boxing team that year. There was a wrestling team every year thereafter until 1940. It was revived in 1947–but was discontinued that year following a 50-0 loss to Norwich, where every Little Falls wrestler was pinned. Ironically, that match was held on the stage at the high school auditorium. In 1953 wrestling was again started, and Wilbur Crisp was the coach. However, in 1954 Charlie started coaching wrestling and did so until the 1970s.

Over the years Charlie mentored three sectional champs, one of whom also took 4th in the state 10 tournament. But hundreds of his “boys” wrestled for him over the years.

The first sectional champ was Jerry Hejtmanek.

A heavyweight, he won the 1958 sectionals and beat a kid from Adams Center. The 1950s were the heyday for Richfield Springs and Van Hornesville, which packed the sectional seeds. It is worth noting that wrestlers in the 30s, 40s and 50s wore no tops, making for a slip and slide sweaty match.

1958 wrestling team with sectional champion Jerry Hejtmanik.

1958 wrestling team with sectional champion Jerry Hejtmanik.

Perhaps the best wrestler Little Falls ever had was Herman Schwasnick, who won 42 matches and only lost once during his career.

Herman was undefeated every year except his junior year. During the regular season, the Iroquois League had no weight class for 177 pounds, which was Herman’s weight. Coach Young had him wrestle in the heavyweight class. His junior year he won the League title. At sectionals there was a 181 pound class. Unfortunately, Coach neglected to sign Herman up for the 181 pound class, and instead he wrestled heavyweight. He lost a tight match in the sectional finals to a young man from Utica Free Academy who weighed 250 pounds. In his senior year, Herman again won the Iroquois League heavy weight title. That year Coach signed him up for the 181 pound class at sectionals. The problem was Herman had torn cartilage in his ribs at the Iroquois tournament. Coach had concerns about whether Herman was medically fit to wrestle the following week at sectionals. So, he sent him to Dr. Bernard Burke. Burke was a real character and was a legend in Little Falls from the 40s till the 80s. Burke’s exam must have been perfunctory. During the abbreviated exam he asked Herm what the young man wanted to do. The answer was that he wanted to wrestle and did not want to let down Coach. Burke signed the medical form that asserted Herman was fit to wrestle. Trussed up like a turkey with bandages and tape, he wrestled. The referees were concerned, but he competed anyway. In the finals, Herm could hardly breathe and was in extreme pain. But after six minutes of wrestling, the score showed a tie. However, he had over a minute of “riding” time and got an extra point and the win. Exhausted and wheezing for air, Herm would have forfeit if it had to go into overtime. Herm indicated that he stayed in school so he could wrestle. In 1961 there was no state tournament, so we would never know if he could have won states. A farm boy, Herm was nominated by Coach as the school “Gentleman of the Year.” He won. A gentle giant.

1961 wrestling team with sectional champion Herman Schwasnick.

1961 wrestling team with sectional champion Herman Schwasnick.

In 1970 Andy Little, then a senior, at 89 pounds took a 4th in the state tournament. He was Iroquois champ his junior and senior years, and sectional champ as a senior. The ironic thing is that he lost to the eventual champion by one point in the states. Also, in 1970 Coach took the seniors on the wrestling team to the Nationals at Northwestern University in Chicago. For most of the team, it was their first time away from home without parental supervision. What was memorable about the tournament was Dan Gable, from lowa State, who had 118 victories and no losses at the time, lost in the finals to Larry Owens from the University of Washington. Gable went on to be an Olympic champ and retired with a 181-1 record. Gable coached at the University of Iowa for 12 years and won 15 national titles. A few years later, Bob Tucker, a 1970 teammate of Andy Little, was wrestling for Brockport State. The Brockport coach had invited Gable to a clinic. Unfortunately, Tucker mentioned to Gable that he had seen him lose at the nationals. Poor Bob then was used as the wrestling dummy by Gable.

1970 wrestling team with sectional champ and 4th place state finisher Andy Little.

1970 wrestling team with sectional champ and 4th place state finisher Andy Little.

Jim Fitzgerald, class of 1956 was one of Coach’s lightweights. Not very good in high school, he went on to RPI and was captain his senior year. That year he wrestled Pete Adasek, also a class of ’56 Coach Young product, who wrestled for Union College. Adasek won. Some of Coach Young’s wrestlers didn’t have the greatest records. Ken Bagley, again from the class of 1970, took a 0-15 record into a match with Norwich’s best wrestler. Coach had constantly told “Bugley” that he had “all the tools he needed” to win. Bagley won. After the match Coach sat down with his wrestler and quietly advised him that the other kid was feeling bad, and he was an honorable opponent.

Coach Young retired in 1973.

The 1974 team had a solid record. But in 1975 the team so intensely disliked their new coach, that they disbanded. In 1976 the seniors wanted to wrestle, but only if Coach Young led them. Charlie came back and coached them to a very successful season. There were four co-captains that year, all of whom had been wrestling together since 7th grade.

1976 wrestling team that revolted and would only wrestle for Coach Young.

1976 wrestling team that revolted and would only wrestle for Coach Young.

In 1989 he was honored by Section 3 and placed in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. For decades after his retirement, Coach was respected by the other coaches both in the Iroquois league and in Section 3, all as reflected by election to the Hall of Fame. His successor Greg Savas built a successful program based upon the foundations Charlie laid.

Although his 76 team was his last, there is more to his wrestling saga. Pete Lawrence, from the class of 1968, had made a career as Commander of Troop E of the State Troopers in Canandaigua. He was also elected three times to the NYS Assembly representing the Rochester area. Pete was a volunteer coach at Brockport State, which has had a very good program of over 50 years of winning seasons. In 1991, Pete and another teammate, Bryant Kelly, piled Charlie into the back seat of a car, plied him with gin and tonics, and drove across the country to another NCAA national tournament. There Charlie prowled the mats, met many of the Division 1 coaches, and was in his glory.

Dr. Donald Staffo visited with Coach in 2005, when Young was 92 years old. At the time, he was the editor of the Alabama Journal of Health and Physical Education. Staffo dedicated the winter 2005 edition of the Journal with an editorial entitled “Charles Young- A Physical Education Role Model.” Here is what my classmate said: “He was physically fit, solid and with hardly an ounce of fat. He looked like he could compete in the Senior Olympics. He reminded me of Jack LaLanne, the iconic physical fitness guru who defied age with his exercise exploits.” When the article was written, Coach weighed 182 pounds, 7 pounds more than his college wrestling weight. For those of you under 70, LaLanne was the “Godfather of Fitness.” He once did 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes. He was also famous for pulling a railroad box car.

The win–loss record of any coach does not tell us much about him. It is what his athletes will tell you about him. The bottom line is that during his 25 plus years at LFHS he was a mentor to hundreds of young men. He passed away in 2008, two months short of his 96th birthday. For the young men whom he coached, whether it was football, wrestling or track, he left a lasting legacy. Perhaps nothing more can be said about a man than his tributes. As one of his wrestlers (Class of 64) I have collected comments from other fellow wrestlers. Coach “was a taskmaster who taught sportsmanship, respect, character and expected his teams to have grit.” To one of his wrestlers who grew up without a dad, he was a father figure. To some he appeared gruff, but for his “kids he had an amazing personality, a cheery smile, but particularly when he was with Adelaide.” His teams “win or lose, developed camaraderie that has stayed with them to this day.” He drilled into his teams that “victory is sweeter when you respect, and not dishonor your opponents.” As a Coach he was “efficient, hard driving, demanding, and occasionally gruff, but he was also affable, curious, and a consummate professional with his students.” He was “upbeat, honest, yet a complex man, one who respects all of life’s obligations.” He “always wanted his boys to succeed.” The man “was loved by his teams.” The wrestling legend Coach Gable said it best: “More enduring than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride. Some have wrestled without great skill–none have wrestled without pride. Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”

I remember the summer of 1971.

I was on orders to Vietnam. I was on leave in Little Falls and at a gas station filling my tank. Somehow, Coach knew I was going to Vietnam, and he gave me a big bear hug and God speed. I appreciated the gesture since by then the American people had turned their backs on Vietnam, and those who served there. I consider myself one of his “boys.” I was one of his five wrestlers that graduated in 1964. We didn’t turn out bad at all–a college athletic director and author, an engineer, a high school principal, a successful entrepreneur, and a lawyer. And it was the same for all his teams. He mentored men who would later be community leaders, teachers, college professors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, successful businessmen, and who would improve the quality of life of their fellows. He left each of us some of his DNA. Simply put, he touched us. And we are and were all the better for it.

Charles Young died on October 7, 2008. Adelaide, the love of his life, passed away on July 16, 2012. Surviving are four daughters, Sandra Skarsaune, June Clar, Pat Stark, and Carol Leach. Another daughter, Cheryl Class, predeceased her parents.

Coach Young laid the foundation upon which later coaches like Greg Savas, Tony Scaparo and Marc Verri built their successful wrestling programs. Little Falls has sent its wrestlers to national tournaments where they have done well. This year’s team finished 10-3 and was considered one of the premier programs in the state. One of its wrestlers was seeded second in the state tournament. And Little Falls never had a state wrestling champion until this past year when Brynn Shepardson won. Coach would be amazed. A girl who won the state wrestling title!


I spent four years playing football and two years wrestling for Coach Young. He was a powerful figure and I considered him a friend. He would always demonstrate and perform any wrestling move that he thought you could execute. He never downgraded anyone.

Even though we did not win any team wrestling or football championships, we always had a number of standout athletes who were chosen first team all stars in the leagues we competed in.

I remember once when I was coaching middle and high school wrestling in Little Falls, Coach Young was in the stands watching the match. After the match, he came over to congratulate me and shake my hand. I will always remember that as a special time in my life.

I also remember one time when I was a senior sitting in class. Coach Young pulled me out of the classroom to go with him to Frankfort to meet with that coach so he and Charlie could fly to Iowa for a special football game. The Frankfort coach had a private plane. I was to bring his car back to Little Falls to his wife Adelaide who taught at Church Street School. When I mat her there, she looked at me and asked, “Where’s Charlie?” I think she was a little upset when I told her where he had gone, so I walked home. I think Charlie was in a little trouble.

Charlie was not only a great coach, but also a very special person in my book.


Schuyler Van Horn is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.

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