Work hard, pray hard, wrestle hard: CC’s championship formula

Novi Detroit Catholic Central coach Mitch Hancock and his 6-year-old son, Teague, watch the Shamrocks wrestling team during the state tournament. Catholic Central won all 14 weight classes to capture its 13th state Division 1 championship. Courtesy Photo

It’s all about relationships — to each other, to the community, to God — for the state champion wrestlers at Novi Detroit Catholic Central.

No team dominated an opponent as the Shamrocks did Brighton, winning all 14 weight classes — the third time for coach Mitch Hancock, only the sixth time in MHSAA history — for the school’s overall 13th state Division 1 title, the sixth under Hancock.

Hancock, an all-state wrestler at CC (Class of 2000) and all-American at Central Michigan University, explained to the media afterward: “There are expectations (when guys come to CC) that they’re going to work hard, be good young men in the classroom and pray hard — and wrestle hard. And they do.”

Whether it’s a practice or a meet, “they are there for each other,” Hancock says. “It’s a brotherhood, a Shamrock helping a Shamrock. Their dedication to the sport makes it easy for me and my great staff to coach.”

Athletic director Aaron Babicz says “it’s a misconception that only stud wrestlers” come to Catholic Central. “Quite a few guys come with no or very little experience in wrestling.”

Both he and Hancock pointed out senior Rory Cox as one such example. “Over four years, he found a niche (at 189 pounds) and worked hard,” Hancock says. Cox compiled a 36-5 record this season and won his match in the state finals, the last of the day to complete the shutout.

Babicz says “many of our kids are involved in and out of (wrestling) season” helping the homeless and less fortunate through a Detroit-based nonprofit established by one of their teammates, 15-year-old sophomore Caleb White, motivated after first encountering a homeless person when he was 6 years old.

Dubbed the Caleb White Project, an advisory board whose members are under the age of 18 sponsor a wide variety of year-round service projects, such as holding game nights at homeless shelters, handing out care packages filled with clothing, food and toiletries, cleaning up shelters, distributing school backpacks for kids, and creating small libraries inside 10 Detroit homeless shelters.

God, family and wrestling, in that order, comprise Hancock’s top three priorities in life.

“Wrestling is my ministry to Jesus Christ,” says Hancock, who also serves as dean of students. “Everything we do is an offering to Him. Making Jesus first in our lives, good things happen.”

He incorporates faith into the wrestling program by encouraging athletes to attend morning Mass, study the Bible, pray before and after practices and meets, and to be open to discussing “anything kids want to talk about.”

St. Paul’s admonition to the Philippians — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” — is among the biblical passages posted on the locker room walls.

Looking ahead to next year, Hancock says, “We’ll be loaded. I’m losing only three seniors.”

That’s one relationship Shamrocks opponents won’t relish.

Setting the swimmers’ record straight

Jason Sosnowski, a 1993 CC alum, took issue with a couple of assertions I made in my column two weeks ago. The first was that Shamrocks swimmers have never made it to the state finals.

Don Horkey

I was in water way above my head on that one. Checking MHSAA records back to 1978, when the state swimming tournament was first held, I find only seven times when CC didn’t have a swimmer in the finals, and 13 times that CC finished among the top 10 teams. The closest CC ever got to winning it all was third place in 1991.

By the way, Jason’s brother, Nick (1998), won four medals in the 1997 tournament; the Shamrocks wound up ninth.

The other issue: Jason says the last time CC won the Catholic League swim title (before this year) was 1992, not 1991 as I quoted from the CHSL website. I’m still trying to get that one squared away.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected]