We all know the numbers and many accolades have been handed out but there is a lot more to late Waverly Head Wrestling Coach and Athletic Director Jim McCloe than those indicate.
To review: McCloe was a football, wrestling and track star at Waverly and returned to teach and coach in 1975 after an outstanding collegiate career at SUNY Delhi, where he earned a National Junior College Championship in 1971.
In the fall of 1971, McCloe was recruited to wrestle at Division I East Carolina University. While at ECU, he won many titles including being a two-time North Carolina Collegiate Champion; Southern Conference Champion; first and fourth at the prestigious Wilkes Tournament; two-time First Colonies Champion; the Pembroke Open Champion and the Maryland Federation tournament Champion. He was selected to the NCAA East-West All Star Team; and was an NCAA qualifier.
After graduating from ECU with his degree in Education, he became a graduate assistant and coach at West Chester University where he was awarded his master’s degree. He concluded his academic career with an Administrative degree from SUNY Cortland in 1988.
McCloe developed an outstanding wrestling dynasty at Waverly with his best friend, Charlie Hughes, who joined the program in 1980. McCloe retired from Waverly High School in 2007 after serving 33 years as head wrestling coach. For 16 of those years, he was also the Director of Athletics for the district. Prior to that, Jim taught Health and Physical Education and coached JV football.
Over those 33 years, McCloe’s teams won 14 Section IV Team Championships and were ranked in 11th in the nation in 1987 and 22nd nationally in 1988. He coached 40 Section IV Individual Champions, seven New York State Champions, 21 NYS place winners, and six National High School All-Americans.
Overall, he coached his teams to 435 dual meet victories. In recognition of his efforts and accomplishments, McCloe was named Section IV Coach of the Year seven times and New York Wrestling Coach of the Year twice. He was elected to the National Junior College Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Waverly High School Hall of Fame in 1999. He was one of eight finalists for the honor of National High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2007, and inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008 and Section IV Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2016, he was inducted into the SUNY Delhi Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as an athlete.
“The kids that we got wanted to be successful “ said former Waverly Assistant Coach Charlie Hughes. “They knew that when they came in the room, we could laugh and have a good time, but when it came time for practice, we were there to practice. When practice was over, we could relax again. That attracted a lot of good kids and it just kept growing.”
“He had already built up quite a name for the Waverly wrestling team when I started out,” said former Waverly standout Colin McDonald. “You walk into that room and see all of the names on the walls and all of the championships. For me as a seventh grader, it’s kind of daunting.”
“You know that there were obviously coaches and people before, but a great number of those successes were under his tuteledge, so it’s inspiring to know, walking in there as a seventh or eighth grader, not really knowing much about any of that and just wanting to wrestle, and then understanding at some point ‘I could potentially be someone on those walls,’” McDonald continued. “He had a great mindset to help you and everyone feel like they could be successful. He was great at both motivating in the room and also getting us to other places — wherever we needed to go to in order to reach those goals, whether it was extra practices with Tioga or Towanda, Wyalusing, he’d take us to tournaments wherever we needed to go to kind of build our skills to what we needed to reach.”
So often, we in the sports community don’t stop and take the time to look behind the numbers at the man who posted them.
McDonald, Waverly’s only two-time state champ, credited McCloe for his success both on the mat and off.
“He was a huge part of a lot of the success that I’ve been able to go on to throughout the rest of my life,” said McDonald, one of a few medical professionals to come out of McCloe’s program. “He was kind of the initial building blocks of discipline, hard work and ethics that I carry with me to this day. That really started out in that wrestling room with him and Coach (then Waverly Assistant Charlie) Hughes.
“He was as proud of their accomplishments once they were out of school as he was on the mat,” said Hughes. “That was one of he things he always stressed in the room: Be the best you can be at whatever you’re going to do, whether it’s going to be a doctor, a teacher or the local ditch digger. He said just be the best person you can be and he stressed that every day.”
“I was definitely close to both of them, and Coach McCloe specifically,” added McDonald. “As a high school student, it was a mentor-mentee relationship and I definitely feel that I learned a great deal from him, both on and off the mat — how to be a hard worker, but also be a family man. He had a lot to do with that. And then into my college years and beyond, one of the best parts about going to the NCAAs was seeing Coach Hughes and Coach McCloe, whether it was at the Cornell after party or in the stands, it was great to catch up with them. He was just a great guy and a joy to be around.”
But the reasons why he engendered such respect probably had more to do with the man he was than what happened on the mat.
“He could really relate to the kids well and they responded to him,” said Hughes. “Everything was like a giant family to him. He treated everyone like they were one of his own and everybody had potential. He just treated everybody specially. He had a way of motivating kids and bringing out the best in them.”
“The effect on one person on a community can’t be overstated,” noted McDonald. “The sheer number of young minds, whether it was through the athletic director position, the Phys. Ed teacher position or in wrestling, the number of people where he had a positive impact on their life is just amazing. We can only all hope to have even a fraction of that impact on peoples lives someday.”
Opposing coaches noted the impact McCloe had on their careers.
“I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Jim McCloe,” said Towanda Head Coach Bill Sexton. “I met Jim during my first year as an assistant coach back in 1978. Jim was very helpful and supportive of me as a young coach.
“Forty-two years later, I have many fond memories of time spent coaching against Jim, talking with Jim at tournaments and scrimmages and in general being around him.”
Sexton saw more than just wins and losses when he watched McCloe’s teams.
“Jim was a good man and a great coach,” Sexton said. “He never put himself ahead of his team. He built a program at Waverly that was dominant for decades. His teams were successful in their league, Section IV, across New York and for a time in the 90’s in the NTL.”
“His teams were well coached, fundamentally sound, well disciplined, and very competitive,” Sexton continued. “Win or lose Jim was a class act and his teams reflected his impact on them. I have a great deal of respect for Jim as a man and as a coach. In recent years, I looked forward to seeing Jim at the Windsor Tournament and spending time with him. Jim was a credit to our sport and he will be sorely missed.”
For Glenn Jarvis, there are many similar memories of coaching against McCloe.
The former Sayre coach always knew what kind of teams McCloe would have.
“Coaching against Jim, he was a strong competitor with strong teams,” Jarvis said. “You don’t have those strong teams over the years without putting in a lot of sacrifice, time and effort and your kids have to believe in the same work ethic that you do.
“Jim did get the most of his wrestlers. Always teaching life lessons that were hard at the time — still made the wrestler a stronger human being in the long run.”
Not only did Jarvis coach against McCloe, but he also spent time coaching with McCloe at camps.
Jarvis spoke of a close relationship developed during the coaches’ downtime.
“I remember being at Bloomsburg University summer camp in our downtime, Coach Hughes, Coach McCloe and myself sat around and talked war stories both hilarious and serious,” said Jarvis. “Good fond memories and Jim will be missed.”
“I’m sure a lot of the people who know him well know that he had an infectious, joyous personality,” said McDonald. “I think that was something that some people who just know him as the wrestling coach and icon that he is never got to experience. He had this giggle that he would occasionally let out and it was one of the most hilarious things that you could ever hear. It was always an awesome experience when we were able to enjoy something enough that he was letting out that giggle. It was always a great time.”
Hughes said that McCloe treated everybody with respect.
“He had a way of getting people to respond to him,” said his good friend. “It didn’t matter who came in contact with him, he was like a magnet and just attracted them to him. It didn’t matter whether it was someone he knew. Whoever he talked to felt like they knew him forever.”
Hughes saw that first hand.
“It was really interesting. When I came in 1980, he knew that I had a wrestling background so he invited us for dinner,” related Hughes. “His wife, Cindy, and my wife, Janet, grew up in the Valley but had never known each other. They were both special ed teachers, so they had that connection. (Jim and I) got to talking and he had some friends at Delhi who had gone on to Slippery Rock, where I was. I got to be really good friends with the two brothers who came there. We got talking and we knew the same type of people. We knew the same ones and it just grew from that.”
McCloe also pushed his wrestlers to do great things, including making sure they got tough competition, according to Hughes.
“He was just a special person. That’s what made him successful. He set a lot of dreams and ideals and he was willing go out and do things — take risks — that other teams sometimes didn’t do,” said Hughes. “He always wanted to schedule the best teams he could find. Even if it was just a team that had a couple of really good kids who matched up with us, we’d try to match up with them.”
“We spent a lot of time in the summer at camps,” Hughes continued. “We traveled all over the country with kids going to camps and he had his own camp at Camp Olympia, bringing in really good counselors. Tod Northrup and Eric Childs were counselors there. He had national champions and All-Americans there. He had some of the top coaches in the East coming in, and I just think he was able to draw that kid, that wrestler out of just about anybody who was willing to step in the room.”
“He had a special knack. He was relatable, but also a voice of discipline,” added McDonald. “He had a knack of knowing when teams needed to have fun and then being able to separate that from when they needed to be disciplined and running a couple of extra laps. We definitely had teams that required different levels of those things and he had a good gauge on both which individuals and as a group who needed those things to be able to succeed.”