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Hudson Falls Wrestling Tournament
Aaron Eisenhauer - aeisenhauer@poststar.com Hudson Falls coach George Chickanis watches one of his wrestlers compete during the Class CC sectional wrestling tournament at Hudson Falls High School on Saturday, February 5, 2011.

HUDSON FALLS -- George Chickanis is not the typical physical education teacher/high school coach.

He's not fiery or in your face. He doesn't jump up and wave his arms and scream.

Often, "Coach Chick" watches his Hudson Falls wrestlers compete while sitting back in a chair, observing, offering instruction during breaks in the action. He tells stories with a twinkle in his eye and a ready laugh.

This weekend, Chickanis has four wrestlers competing in the New York State Wrestling Championships. It's the most Section II champions the Tigers have ever had in one season.

And this will be the final weekend that Chickanis coaches from the corner of the mat.

Chickanis, 55, has announced he is retiring as Hudson Falls' head wrestling coach, a post he has held for 27 seasons.

"I've enjoyed it, but it's time," said Chickanis, who is also retiring as a physical education teacher. "The program needs a younger guy with more energy."

Chickanis is wrapping up a 32-year coaching career, including five seasons at Fonda, with an overall dual-meet record of 336-202-5. His Hudson Falls teams have won 11 sectional class titles, and the Tigers have had 17 wrestlers capture 26 Section II crowns.

For the last two seasons, Chickanis has been the Section II wrestling chairman, a job that he said he will continue to do.

"It's going to be weird not seeing him sitting there," said former wrestler Corey Barber, a volunteer assistant with the Tigers. "It's kind of hard to think it's true. I haven't been to a practice or a tournament that Coach Chick hasn't been there."

"George Chickanis is Hudson Falls," said former Queensbury coach Jack LaBombard, who has known Chickanis since he was a child. "The kids are going to miss him. There's going to be a big void in Hudson Falls."

On Tuesday, while a dozen state tournament-bound wrestlers worked out in the Hudson Falls wrestling room, Chickanis was the doting grandfather, sitting off to the side with granddaughter Ava. His son, Kevin Kill, and daughter-in-law, the former Sarah Craft, have two daughters, Ava and Sophia.

Chickanis is a second-generation coach. The Tigers' wrestling room is named for his father, Thomas J. Chickanis, who started the wrestling program at Hudson Falls in the 1960s. Tom Chickanis, along with his youngest son, Thomas John, was killed by a drunk driver in 1970, when George was 14.

Chickanis was a three-sport standout in football, wrestling and his first love, baseball. He played linebacker on the University of Vermont's final football team, and completed his phys ed degree at Springfield College.

Chickanis discovered his love of coaching while helping out with his old American Legion baseball team as a college student. He did his student teaching at Queensbury under LaBombard, who was building his own coaching legacy with the Spartans. Over the years, he has coached football and track, as well as wrestling.

Chickanis is also the first to deflect any praise or credit from himself.

"It's not about me, it's about the program," he said. "I just happen to be the head psychiatrist."

And the Hudson Falls program has benefitted from the long coaching relationship between Chickanis, assistant coach Steve "Scratch" Scarseletta, modified coaches Rob Barber and Dick Hyatt, and any number of former wrestlers who have helped out over the years.

Chickanis and Scarseletta have worked together since 1987. Rob Barber joined the team in 1992. Barber gets the wrestlers ready for the varsity, drilling the fundamentals. Scarseletta is Chickanis' right-hand man, handling the day-to-day running of practices. Chickanis is the motivational coach, getting wrestlers to peak at the right time.

"He's not the fanciest coach as far as technique. We're not fancy wrestlers," Rob Barber said. "He knows how to get a kid ready for the big match. He knows how to get inside a kid's head and get him ready."

"He made me believe I was tougher than I actually was," said Corey Barber, one of Rob's sons and a two-time state finalist.

Scarseletta said Chickanis can be so mellow and quiet that when he does talk to his wrestlers, it carries even more weight.

"When he says something, he has the kids' undivided attention," Scarseletta said. "He doesn't say a lot, but it's very meaningful. He wants his kids to be productive on and off the mat.

"He wants to win as much as anybody, but he could care less if he loses," Scarseletta added. "I've never seen him upset after a loss. Fifteen minutes after a match, you can't tell if we won or lost."

The success of the program can't be ignored. Three Tigers went to states in 1991. Every year since 1999, Hudson Falls has sent at least one wrestler to states, even before the split state tournament.

"We've had a good run," Chickanis said. "We've won a lot of sectionals, a lot of tournaments. I don't put one above another. They've all been great."

"As one of his many mentors, I'm very proud of him," LaBombard said. "His father would be very proud of him. He's had a great career and he's going out on top. He's been a credit to our wrestling community. He's a true educator, in the wrestling room and in the classroom."

As for his retirement plans, Chickanis said a spring training trip to Florida is coming up.

"It's time to start taking care of me," he added with a smile. "Plus I have two granddaughters I love, and they love me."

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