Chooljian Earns National Acclaim in Wrestling

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By Tom Vartabedian

PLAISTOW, N.H. — If Barry Chooljian isn’t the top high school wrestling coach in America, then he’s certainly creating a strong case for himself.

In his 24 years at Timberlane Regional High School, he has fashioned a very
respectable mark of 402-41-5, led his Owls to a record eight New England championships, no fewer than 18 New Hampshire divisional state titles, and seven Meet of Champions (All-State) crowns.

Over the duration, he’s never experienced a losing season.

It was only fitting that he be selected National Coach of the Year by two organizations — both unanimous picks.

Just before Christmas, Chooljian was selected as the National High School
Coaching Association’s Wrestling Coach of the Year. A month later, he was accorded similar honors by the National Federation High School Coaches Association.

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If that didn’t suffice, add the National Wrestling Coaches Association  Regional Coach of the Year and the fact that he was USA Wrestling’s New Hampshire Man of the Year. Chooljian has won so many honors, his school and home would qualify for an awards distributorship.

“I’m really quite humbled by it all,” said Chooljian. “National recognition is not something I ever envisioned happening. I coach because I love working with kids. All the success we’ve had is due to their hard work and dedication.”

Much of it is the good fortune of working inside a school that has been  extremely supportive of its wrestling program. Of all the major sports like football and basketball, it’s wrestling that traditionally rises to the surface, thanks to Chooljian. He packs the stands like an NCAA play-off game.

“This is good for the kids and good for the program,” he adds. “That’s what I
care about the most.”

It is so good, Timberlane often jets forth with both an “A” and “B” squad.  Each complements the other when it comes to high-level competition. A middle school feeder system is unlike most districts. In short, prospects come to Timberlane anxious to wrestle and land that elusive college scholarship.

Among them was Eric Bradley, one of three brothers enamored by the sport. Chooljian considers the half-Armenian (Fundeklian on mother’s side) the greatest he’s ever handled over his span. Bradley landed a scholarship to Penn State, proceeded to win two Big Ten titles and was a 2-time  All-American. Today, he’s in Las Vegas, working toward a professional ring career.

“For me, being Armenian has really made a big impact on who I am as a person,” Chooljian points out. “I have my dad to thank for all that. My athletes understand well that the team comes first, not the individual. You don’t cut corners. Hard, sustained effort without making excuses gives you the best chance to succeed. We challenge the athletes and teach them how to overcome adversity through intense work.”

This past season could very well have been his best. The Owls went 23-1, barely losing to Blair Academy, NJ — the number-one-ranked team in the country — in a Pennsylvania tournament. Prior to the title match, Chooljian’s chargers defeated four other Pennsylvania schools. Another invitational in New York produced two national champions.

“Being from a small community and having our success supported in such a positive way says a lot,” Chooljian brought out. “Coaching takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. I never want to feel the pain of regret for not doing everything I can for my athletes.”

In his case, success breeds success. Chooljian graduated from Timberlane in 1977 as a New Hampshire state champion. He attended the University of Rhode Island and helped the Division 1 Rams to the New England title as a scrappy 150-pounder.

“Competing at the NCAAs with my dad watching is still one of my most memorable experiences as an athlete,” Chooljian admits. “He’s always been there for me.”

After college, Chooljian returned home and fell into coaching when he visited a nephew’s practice at Timberlane and helped him train one day. The school invited him to return the following year and help coach. Three years
later (1987), Chooljian won his first state crown and it’s been a steady stream ever since.

“Two decades later, I still look forward to coaching every day,” he says. “I believe in helping young men with their growth and development. Wrestling provides me with a great avenue for that. It’s what still keeps me in coaching.”

With the thousands that have filtered through his program, many continue to reciprocate, whether through college or community endeavors. Several have come to assist or gone elsewhere to carve their own niche in the sport. Nearly all have become model citizens. Timberlane Principal Don Woodworth, a former coach, couldn’t compliment his mentor enough for the acclaim he’s brought to the school and district.

“Barry is a consummate professional and is on top of everything,” said Woodworth. “Soup to nuts, he’s 100 percent invested in each kid both on and off the mat. He’s organized a program that speaks for itself. He shows  kids where they are, what they can accomplish and how to get there. They come out of it as better human beings.”

Chooljian lives in nearby Hampstead with his wife Carrie. A daughter Lauren is a senior at St. Anselm’s College. Another daughter Cara is a freshman at East Carolina University. The sport never dilutes his family interests.

As to the future, Chooljian has no plans to retire, not as long as the spirit keeps prevailing. In his spare time, he enjoys a good workout and a round of golf.

“It only gets better with time,” he quips. “Every day represents a new challenge for me — and that’s the way I like it.”

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