Honorary coach Nolan Redhead (top right) of Victor, right, sits with Penfield coach John Leone during last year’s Takedown Cancer Duals at Rush-Henrietta High School. (Photo: ADRIAN KRAUS/@AKOPHOTO1/PHOTOGRAPHER)
John Leone, who shaped Penfield’s wrestling team into a formidable opponent in Section V, has decided to move to the modified level after 18 seasons.
A tweet on Monday by Penfield athletic director Pete Shambo included Leone’s choice to coach seventh- and eighth-grade wrestlers in the school district in the future. Leone is a physical education teacher at Bay Trail Middle School in Penfield.
“He mentioned three years ago that he started thinking about it,” Shambo said. “I don’t think it’s easy for John and people like him to make that kind of decision.”
Penfield will be posting an opening for a new varsity wrestling coach, Shambo said.
“There’s no one tapped on the shoulder, ‘You are the next guy,’ or something like that,” Shambo said.
Penfield’s next wrestling coach is taking a over a team that is in better shape than when Leone moved into the position, according to Mickey Marlowe, who has completed 25 seasons as the coach at Rush-Henrietta.
“They struggled and he made them very relevant in Section V,” Marlowe said. “When you are relevant in Section V, that’s pretty good.”
Leone elevated the quality of the team on the mat to the point that he set up Penfield wrestlers to compete in high-profile tournaments in the sport, like the Powerade Tournament in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania and Eastern States Classic in Loch Sheldrake, Sullivan County.
“He was one of the first to do it, give them exposure (to college coaches, competition around the region and media) that way,” Marlowe said.
This was one of the ways that Leone promotes wrestling, according to Marlowe.
“He’s a wrestling guru, a big fan, he studies it,” Marlowe said. “And another thing, is that he would get the best out of guys who maybe weren’t your superstars.
“Today there are your great individual wrestlers like Cooper Kropman, Yianni Diakomihalis, but what I feel is that he had that balance with kids, maybe who were just wrestlers in the winter. He was pretty good at getting guys to step up and be a tough out. He’s a promoter of the sport, he’s a good voice.”
Leone, a Penfield graduate, won a NCAA Division III national wrestling championship in 1987 as a member of the College at Brockport team coached by Don Murray. He was a runner-up the season before, a result near the top of a healthy list of accomplishments in college.
“John has a lot of horsepower, he’s a motivator,” Section V Wrestling Hall of Fame member Frank Marotta said. “To have somebody with his skill-level working with the younger kids who are just starting out, you couldn’t ask for anything more.
“I don’t see any of the longtime coaches walking off into the sunset. They have to have some involvement with the sport, or at least I always hope so. It’s important that you have good people staying involved. I’m glad to hear that he’s staying at the modified level.”
Shambo said he believes there is interest among the coaches in Penfield’s wrestling program to move into the varsity position.
“The John Leones of the world are special people,” Shambo said. “They don’t come around everyday.”