Dating back to the mid-1980’s, Cherniack has been a wrestling official, a wrestling head coach and assistant coach, the founder of the Wrestling Rebels’ program at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Greater Derry, and along with his wife Anne the founder of the Rebels Classic Wrestling Tournament and an annual summer wrestling camp.
But Cherniack will not be returning as an assistant coach to Pinkerton head wrestling coach Dave Rhoads later this year after serving as an assistant and junior varsity coach in the PA wrestling program for the last 20 years.
“Needless to say I was dumbfounded when I was told by the athletic director (Tim Powers) that he and the head coach had discussed it and they decided to take the wrestling team in ‘a new direction,'” said Cherniack. “I had no clue! He stated because of my out-dated coaching and motivational styles and apparent lack of rapport with the wrestlers that I would not be a part of the change and that he was recommending that I not be rehired.”
Rhoads did not respond to a request for comment. Powers’ only response was, “Jim Cherniack has long been involved in wrestling in the Derry area, and we appreciate and respect the work he has done.”
Cherniack thinks that an incident in December may have led to his unhappy exit from the PA wrestling program.
“(Powers) also questioned my commitment to the team due to my absence at Christmas time,” said Cherniack. “I had gone to California to help my son out after he was recovering from a horrific motorcycle accident, which he agreed to, but expressed displeasure (about). We discussed my
dedication, including camp, setting up a space to hold open mats, nomination for assistant coach of the year by my wrestlers, taking over for the head coach when he was incapacitated, and the fact that my evaluation was a farce.”
“I do not know the true reason I was let go. I am turning 65 this month and was thinking about retiring next year anyway, but he did not know that.”
Cherniack’s relationship with wrestling began back in the 1960’s.”My introduction to wrestling was in junior high school,” he said. “It was a Sunday afternoon and we were watching TV, when the NBC affiliate station in Springfield, Mass. televised a dual meet at Springfield College. I was fascinated by what I saw,” he recalled.
In the spring of his ninth grade year – while he was attending Meriden Junior High – Cherniack interacted with a student/teacher in a gym class who taught an introduction to the sport of wrestling.
Soon thereafter while he was a student at Francis T. Maloney High School in his hometown, Cherniack – who also played football, basketball and baseball as a youngster – decided to try out for the wrestling squad.
“The wrestling coach at Maloney at that time was Lou Munch, who had wrestled at Springfield College and had won a New England title. There was a rumor going around that he had never been taken down,” said Cherniack. “Coach Munch ran the hardest practices that I had ever seen, and I loved the challenge of surviving a practice and learning the nuances of the sport.”
Now hooked, Cherniack went on to a fine high school career and later spent four collegiate years as Tufts University’s “jumbo” wrestler. He captained the team as a junior and finished second at the inaugural Beanpot Wrestling Tournament in November of 1970.
“The appeal of wrestling to me is two-fold,” he said. The first is the challenge it presents. There are actually two challenges. The most obvious is the contest between you and your opponent and using your skill, strength, and cunning to impose your will on your opponent. The other challenge is personal. How hard can you push yourself?
“The second appeal is the fact that wrestling is a sport that demands discipline, and one’s success is based on how much one puts into it,” said Cherniack.
Cherniack worked for 30 years as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service. After serving with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency as a radiation specialist, he retired as a captain in 2003.
Cherniack umpired softball for more than 20 years and then began officiating wrestling in 1985. He “wore the striped shirt” for 10 years and officiated Pinkerton Academy’s first varsity meet as well as the first dual meet ever held in the school’s Hackler Gymnasium.
In the early 1990s, the first coaches of the PA wrestling program – brothers Chris and Wes Decker – approached Cherniack after a match which he had officiated and asked him if he had ever considered coaching wrestling.
Before long, Cherniack was heading the Pinkerton program’s feeder system in the form of the Wrestling Rebels over at the Boys’ and Girls’ club.
When the club posted the names of kids who had made the (Running Rebels’) traveling basketball teams, I looked for kids who did not make the teams and invited them to become Wrestling Rebels,” said Cherniack.
The program has now produced over 125 state champions and 75 New England champions.
“When I talk about success, I consider more than winning championships,” said Cherniack. “Rather, I look at the individuals who went through the program and how they have contributed to the community, the state, and the nation.”
With the Rebels’ program rolling, Cherniack began coaching at Pinkerton in 1995 as a volunteer.
“(Headmaster) Brad Ek hired me as an assistant coach the next year. This (past) year was my 20th year and in that time, I am happy to say that I was coaching the team that brought home the first trophy from a tournament. I was also the coach who brought home two second place plaques from the varsity state Division I tournaments. And last year my junior varsity wrestlers brought home a state team championship.”
Despite his unexpected exit from Pinkerton certainly leaves a sting, Jim Cherniack has many hundreds of great memories of his involvement with wrestlers and the knowledge that he has made a difference.
“Three things that I have learned from wrestling and try to share are, ‘Always be a gentleman and always pay back those who have helped you, ‘Hard work will be rewarded,’ and ‘No one has ever drowned in sweat,'” he said.