MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Chuck Vavrosky started his wrestling career for Bloomington Kennedy High School. He then returned in 1980 to coach.
Vavrosky has seen it all on the mat in his legendary career, but nothing prepared him for this fall, and sorting it out is still a process.
The pictures on the wall at Bloomington Kennedy tell the story of success; of a man who has been coaching for 37 years.
“I thought, you know, could I give that back to the kids. And, you know, I never imagined I’d be around for 37 years later doing this, but here I am, still enjoying it,” Vavrosky said.
He molds his team into men in the school gym, where he makes them dreamers; where they get up close to a man who leaves an impression.
“I’m so happy and so honored to have been able to, you know, work with him over these … six years … since seventh grade,” said wrestling captain Noah Keith.
Coach Vav is also a husband and a father to three children: two girls and a son, Kelton, who they adopted — and who grew to love his time outdoors hunting with him.
“He did something a few years ago, he shot his first turkey. We were walking out of the woods, and this was a 14-year-old kid, he said, ‘Dad … first of all, thank you for adopting me. Second of all, thank you for allowing me in this part of your life,'” Vavrosky said. “It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
That is why it is so hard to understand; why on a day this past September, with no signs of depression, they came home to find Kelton had taken his life.
“The night before, he and I were wrestling and laughing and joking around, and we had a great time,” he said. “He got up that morning, you know, and I said, ‘I love you,’ as he walked out the door and, you know, the next time I saw him, he wasn’t with us anymore.”
It shocked everyone, and sent his team into a season they committed to their head coach.
“We’re out here, we’re wrestling for Vav, we’re wrestling for Kelton,” Keith said. “Because you know, he’s given so much and we just kind of want to give back to him.”
They honored Kelton at his funeral, where a capacity crowd filled with current and former wrestlers paid tribute to the coach’s family by just being there.
“My whole team showed up with their Kennedy wrestling warmups on,” Vavrosky said.
Wrestling and the wrestling community became his support group; a comfort zone where he tried to heal in front of their eyes.
“When I came back to school, I told my high school students and my wrestlers, ‘You’re going to see me go through a million emotions, but I’m going to do it right in front of you,” Vavrosky said. “‘You’re going to see me cry,’ and they have, ‘You’re going to see me happy,’ and they have, ‘And you’re going to see me angry,’ and they have.”
He has inspired his team by how he handled the unthinkable.
“I think the way he’s handled it has been next to incredible,” Keith said. “He’s kept such poise and really been heartfelt and honest with us all season about how he’s been doing.”
Because this coach has had his world rocked, and while this allows him time to focus on something else, he would love to have one more day to tell his son what he means to him.
“Obviously let him know I love him, because, you know, I loved every bit of him,” Vavrosky said. “He was as pure as they come.”
Vasvrosky has come to understand what he has meant to the people who have observed him handling it.
“To come back and work with us every day and see this through, to me it’s just incredible,” Keith said. “I just say, ‘Thank you.'”
Because this is a time where he still healing, processing and trying to understand that his family lost a member that they will forever love very much.
“I can’t tell you how much I miss him. It hurts every day, and every day I tell him I love him. You know, I give him that hug, because you don’t know. You just don’t know,” he said.