Mark Churella Sr. was a hard man to get an interview with. He was never sitting in the same seat throughout the entire NCAA Wrestling Championships. Every time he came into view, he was sitting in a different team’s section. But it was not because he’s a social guy, talking to fellow wrestling fans. He was actually following the movements of his two sons, junior Ryan and freshman Josh.Watching him during his sons’ matches is entertainment in itself. It is always the same thing. Before the match begins, he offers a word of advice from the stands to each of his sons, almost like a second coach. His suggestion is met with a look of recognition from either Ryan or Josh. As the match begins, the casual fan notices that Mark appears to be unaware of anyone around him. He is screaming at the top of his lungs, providing various words of encouragement or disapproval. He has entered another world that completely revolves around the wrestling match. All the while, the people seated around him are looking at each other, asking, “Is this guy insane?”Every time one of his son’s gets into a precarious position, Mark’s face contorts almost as if he is enduring the same pain. Each time his son gives up points to the opponent, an onlooker is certain to hear some groan of disapproval from Mark. As the match goes on, that same onlooker will begin to realize that Mark is not some ordinary crazed fan­. He is a father.But they don’t realize is that he isn’t an ordinary father figure. Mark Churella is arguably the greatest wrestler to ever don the Maize and Blue. The Churella brothers did not get involved with wrestling in typical fashion. Their father did not allow them to grapple until seventh grade. Instead, they dabbled in many sports such as basketball and baseball. “My dad didn’t want us to start out too young because a lot of (wrestlers) get burnt out after awhile,” Josh said. “I guess he thought seventh grade was the right time for us to start competitive wrestling.”Even with the late start, Ryan and Josh proved to be quick learners. Josh won three high school wrestling championships in the state of Michigan, and Ryan won two. Throughout these younger years, Mark Sr. was a guiding influence in their wrestling development.“In middle school, I had great support of the coaches, and they basically allowed me to do whatever I wanted with the boys,” Mark said. “In high school, I was actually part of the coaching staff as an assistant coach, so I was part of the program.”Even during Ryan and Josh’s years at Michigan, Mark has managed to stay involved in the development of his sons’ wrestling skills. During the season he tries to come to at least one practice a week in order to help his sons out. One would think that this would lead to problems with the Michigan coaching staff, but that is far from true. “What you have to realize is that (Mark) has been their coach since they were born,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “Great athletes are always looking to get better, and there are a lot of people who are going to influence them in their development. Great athletes always try to learn from as many people as they can. (Mark) is just another person in (Ryan and Josh’s) lives that they learn from.”Mark was a part of the Michigan wrestling coaching staff during McFarland’s years as a Wolverine wrestler, and the two men have similar coaching styles. Mark’s three national titles and 22 wins at the NCAA Championships are the most ever won by a Michigan wrestler. His wrestling style emphasized aggression from all positions. Ryan and Josh have inherited their father’s wrestling traits. “Everything we do is based off his style of wrestling,” Ryan said. “He’s the one who taught us from the start, so it’s hard to get away from. Plus, it works.”Despite the positives that come from having a Michigan wrestling legend as their father, there are also negatives. Coming into Michigan as the sons of the only three-time NCAA champion, the school’s history put some added pressure on Ryan and Josh. But, instead of turning the pressure into a burden, they have used it to their advantage.“(The pressure) has given me motivation,” Ryan said. “All the tools he’s given us have already been proven to be successful at this level. We just stick to what we know and what we do best.”Due to the presence of a former NCAA champion in their lives, Ryan and Josh have a sense of what it takes to achieve the ultimate goal for a collegiate wrestler. But the duo finished the 2005 NCAA Wrestling Championships in disappointing fashion. Ryan was fourth in the 165-pound weight class, while Josh finished eighth in the 141-pound weight class. Despite this, their hard work and dedication to the sport has not gone unnoticed.“(Ryan and Josh) are very driven to be the best that they can be,” McFarland said. “They work well together and are always thinking about becoming better. They want to be national champs, and they want to have the same experience their dad did when he was standing on top of the podium.” Mark Sr. is not obsessed with his sons’ winning, but rather with their happiness. He knows his sons want to become NCAA champions, so he does whatever he can to make that happen. Because he cannot actually go out on the mat and wrestle for them, he chooses the next best alternative: anxiety.“When I wrestled, I had control because I was the one doing it,” Mark said. “I really don’t have any input now, and I can only watch. When I wrestled, I got anxious, but going out on the mat was like a release of that anxiety. Watching (Ryan and Josh), I don’t have that release.”Any misconception of the Churella family goes out the door if you observe them after a loss. When one of his sons loses a match, Mark is the first to console him. The man who was yelling and screaming during the match disappears. Instead, he becomes a father who genuinely cares about the well-being of his sons. This dedication to his sons was most evident at the NCAA Championships. For some matches, Mark wore a fake coaching credential in order to get to the floor level of the Savvis Center in St. Louis. He risked getting thrown out of the arena in order to be the first one to greet his sons after a match. Watching Mark console his sons, it becomes clear that the tight-knit bond between father and sons will extend far beyond the wrestling mat. These three will forever be close no matter where life takes them.

Michigan Wrestling
Michigan sophomore Josh Churella finished eighth in the 141-pound weight class at the 2005 NCAA Wrestling Championships. (Tony Ding/Daily)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *