It was 1968 and a slightly-built Chicago area 8th grader named David Stoika was picked on quite a bit by bigger, older boys.
Good friend Gary Herman had the solution to Stoika’s problem as he convinced the school’s physical education teacher to teach a class on amateur wrestling.
Stoika took to the sport right away and it changed his life.
Learning single leg takedowns, pinning combinations and how to ride ‘em tough on top, Stoika didn’t become a smaller version of two-time Tennessee state champ Shazzon Bradley overnight, (more on him later), but was able to stand his ground against the school bullies.
His wrestling knowledge led to a 33-22-8 varsity record while wrestling four years at Oak Lawn High School in Chigago with a highlight of once beating a teammate and future Illinois state champ in a challenge match to earn to top spot on the varsity squad.
Today’s Region 4-AAA Tourney: Fast forward nearly 50 years to today’s Region 4-AAA traditional tourney at East Hamilton and that former 8th grader is still involved in man’s oldest sport as he coaches the McMinn County wrestlers with hopes of having a few Cherokee grapplers finish in the top four and qualify for next weekend’s TSSAA D-I AAA state tournament in Franklin.
His Final Season: McMinn County has seeded wrestlers in No.4 Gage Boggess at 120 pounds and No.3 Tyler Varnadore at 285 and Stoika believes those two and possibly others can qualify for the state tourney. It’s another opportunity to sit in the coaches chair mat side today at the region tourney and hopefully next weekend at the 57th annual state
For a coach who, for most of his 33 seasons, has had no feeder system from elementary or middle schools to the high school nor a county-wide kids club, Stoika can look back on his coaching career with humility and pride as he has coached the right way, taught his wrestlers the basics and more with good success.
He retires with 304 dual wins (275 at McMinn County and 29 as junior high head coach in Iowa), a handful of McMinn Duals titles, an in-season traditional tourney title (CCS Charger Invite in 2013), sportsmanship awards and a handful of Cherokees who wrestled in the state tournament.
“Recording my 300th coaching win this season, receiving the Team Sportsmanship Award at last month’s Mountain Top Tourney at Sewanee-St.Andrews and also winning the CCS traditional tourney a couple of years ago are a few of my coaching highlights,” said coach Stoika who also as father-coach sat mat side as son Brian won a match in the state tournament a few years ago.
Another highlight would be coaching a mountain of a wrestler in Shazzon Bradley to state titles in 1987 and 1988. Other top Cherokee wrestlers have been Todd Humbert (4x region finalist) and two-time state qualifier Nathan Sloan.
“Coach Stoika and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on strategy and how to wrestle different guys as I was pretty stubborn and bull-headed as a high school kid from the country,” said Bradley with a laugh.
“But I knew he had my best interest in mind and once I decided to do things his way things
worked out well for me.”
Coach Stoika commented, “Shazzon had some tough opponents at heavyweight his junior year, including Gary King from Howard High School.
“Shazzon beat King at the McCalliie tournament, while King won the re-match at the Central Invitational, but Shazzon claimed the third and most important match beating King in the state finals.”
Bradley applauds his former coach for setting him on the right path.
“First of all coach Stoika is a Christian man and if it wasn’t for him and the way he has lived his life I wouldn’t be a Christian today and going to heaven,” Bradley stated.
Bradley commented that coach Stoika emphasized the importance of preparation, hard work and training and not just relying on physical strength to win matches.
“Coach Stoika lives his life by example and taught me how to me a man. He is a great man, just look at all the lives of young men he has touched over all these years.”
Today, coach Stoika, wearing his usual dress shirt and tie (“I treat the sport of wrestling with respect and feel I should be dressed accordingly”), will instruct, encourage and cheer on his wrestlers as he has for thirtysomething years with the hopes of proudly seeing a few on the medal stand late this afternoon to give the long time history teacher one more trip to the state tourney before saying good bye.