McDonogh's Welch to be Honored by Wrestling Hall of Fame

Written by Gary Adornato, Varsity Sports Network, 9/4/2015

The age of 45 may seem a little early to be recognized for your “lifetime achievements,” but when you have built the resume assembled by McDonogh wrestling coach Pete Welch, people take notice.

In particular, the Maryland Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame was impressed enough to nominate Welch for the “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” Award, which he will receive during a special Honors Banquet in November.

“My initial reaction is embarrassed and I’m incredibly honored,” said Welch who has been at the helm of McDonogh’s wrestling program since 1994. “There are so many that have done great things for the sport for a very long time. I feel like I am just a small blip on the radar. I am truly grateful and honored for the recognition.”

Welch began his head coaching career with the Eagles after a stellar high school and collegiate wrestling career. At Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, NJ, he wrestled for his father John, who was inducted into the New Jersey Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003. During his prep career Welch won 103 matches and won a state title as a senior, after placing third as a junior. He earned All-American honors in both freestyle and Greco-Roman and was a three-time New Jersey freestyle state champion.

From Ridge, he took his wrestling talents to the University of North Carolina where he won 108 career matches. In 1991, he won an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and was named a NCAA Division I All-American, as well as the Outstanding Wrestler at the National Duals.

Welch’s tenure in Owings Mills was intended to be brief. It was an opportunity to gain some experience, before moving to on to the next stop.

“I pretty much came to McDonogh right out of college in the fall of 1993. I had just gotten married and told my wife we would do one year up in Maryland then head back down south,” said Welch. “Very quickly we fell in love with McDonogh School and the kids in the wrestling program. Here it is 22 years later. My oldest is now a McDonogh Alum, and my other two are not far behind in 9th and 7th grade.

“I always knew the school was special, but when I watched my daughter's graduation last spring, and saw all of the special people from McDonogh that helped her grow on this campus, I couldn't have been more proud of this school. My wife and three kids have been so supportive. I am not sure they knew what they signed up for, but have allowed me to do what I do. I am grateful for their support.”

McDonogh is grateful as well. Once lackluster, the Eagles have been transformed into a national wrestling powerhouse. In his 22 years in Owings Mills, Welch has coached 73 MIAA champions, 56 state champions and 13 National Prep champions, with scores of his athletes going on to wrestle at a high level in college. His teams have won 10 MIAA Dual Meet Championships, seven MIAA Tournaments and six Maryland Independent School State Championships.

In 2014, Varsity Sports Network named Welch its Wrestling Coach of the Year. The same year he also was named National Prep Coach of the Year. Twice, the Baltimore Sun has named him its Coach of the Year. This is also not his first Hall of Fame honor. He is a member of the New Jersey Region V Hall of Fame and the Ridge High School of Fame. In addition, in 2006, he was the recipient of the Maryland Wrestling Officials Association William T. Hastings Contribution to Wrestling Award.

As for those who have contributed to his success, Welch said the list is long. “I have had so many people mentor me along the way. Some of my best mentors weren't even wrestling people,” said Welch, who also serves as McDonogh’s Director of Middle School Athletics and the Director of Campus Safety and Security, in addition to teaching in the Physical Education Department. “I have had the opportunity to work for some amazing administrators and fellow teachers at McDonogh that didn't really know wrestling but did know working with kids and parents better than anyone. I have learned so much from them all and feel like I am learning things and getting better every year.

“I had tremendous sources of support with the program from the start. Former teacher, coach and Hall of Fame Inductee, Mr. Ray Oliver, was a tremendous mentor and friend to me. He is a legend at McDonogh. Although I only knew him as a retiree, he was always there for me and kids in the program. He was a man of extremely high integrity and incredibly humble. He is someone I always aspire to be like.”

His formation, however, began long before he arrived at McDonogh. “My college coaches showed me so much about the sport. After 22 years of coaching I have a tremendous respect and better understanding of what they did everyday for the wrestlers in the program and the sport. Without a doubt my greatest mentor was my high school coach, who also happens to be my father. John Welch was a teacher/coach long before and after I came through his program Ridge High School. He wasn't just doing it to coach his son. This was his profession. He did it extremely well for so many kids at our high school and for the state of New Jersey. I was very fortunate that we lived in the same town where he coached.”

True to the nature of the award he is receiving, Welch works hard to give back to the sport of wrestling. In season and out, he runs 6-8 large wrestling events per year. He also has operated the McDonogh Wrestling Club for the last 23 years and has opened his wrestling room to athletes from other schools, who come to McDonogh to compete and learn during the off-season. Another major item which will be part of Welch’s legacy is the Maryland Independent Schools State Tournament, which he helped found. In addition, he has coached Maryland Junior and Cadet National Teams, and hosted and taught at numerous wrestling clinics, including the Maryland Future Champions Clinic, which he has hosted at McDonogh for the past 22 years.

At McDonogh, Welch found a home and a calling. “I always thought I would continue to train and compete after college. I did for a little bit, but within my first two years coaching at McDonogh, I very quickly started caring more about the team I was coaching,” said Welch “I cared more about the individual success of my wrestlers than I cared about any aspirations of my own. The challenge of making wrestling great at McDonogh, along with helping kids reach goals that I once had, excited me.”

All the success, all the devotion, for Welch, begins and ends with a love for wrestling. “There is no other sport like wrestling. The individual and team aspect, condition, and weight management set it apart. It is hand to hand combat and there is nothing constant about it. The grind of wrestling teaches a mental toughness like no other.

“I know in my own life, my wrestling experience has made many challenges seem not so difficult. Wrestling is unique and not a high profile sport. It has to be sold and has little reward except personal satisfaction. I love that we have some of the best athletes in the country in our practice room next to kids that have been cut from every sport for which they tried out. Eventually these two very different athletes become teammates and friends on and off the mats. They help each other find success and deal with disappointment. Some of my most memorable coaching experiences were with wrestlers you probably never heard about.”

During his time in Maryland, Welch earned as Master’s Degree from McDaniel College and, along with his wife Patty, is raising three children, Abbey, Natalie and Kevin. At 45, he stills has a full lifetime ahead of him. Who knows what else he may achieve?

Reprinted with permission from Varsity Sports Network.

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