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Twinsburg councilor, retired coach, in Ohio Wrestling Hall of Fame

by Gina Mace | Reporter Published: September 28, 2016 12:00 AM
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Twinsburg -- Twinsburg City Councilor and retired Twinsburg athletic director and wrestling coach Gary Sorace may have had a very different life if not for wrestling.

"I hadn't planned to go to college," Sorace said. "I was going to try to get a job or go into the Army."

Instead, he attended Cleveland State University on a full scholarship, became a teacher and coach, and in October, Sorace will stand with eight others as he is inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Ohio Chapter.

Sorace got his start in the sport in Maple Heights, where he grew up.

"Maple Heights was the hot bed of wrestling in the '50s, '60s and '70s," he said. He loved sports, but with his slight build, there weren't many sports where he could compete.

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"For me, as tiny as I was, it was something I could compete in with people who were my size," Sorace said.

He was 75 pounds when he started wrestling on his high school team at Maple Heights High School, setting a state record and winning the state championship in his senior year.

It was the early 1970s, and Sorace, like many teens, imagined his adult life would begin with a stint in the U.S. Army, or a job at a local business or factory.

But Sorace's talent for wrestling interrupted his plans.

"After senior year, I was bombarded by letters and calls from people who wanted me," he said. "Not a lot of people from Maple Heights went on to college to wrestle. It's not like we were used to people contacting us."

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One of those people who wanted him was then-Cleveland State University wrestling coach Dick Bonacci.

As a member of the University of Toledo Hall of Fame, Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame, and National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Bonacci knows a thing or two about first-class athletes.

Bonacci offered Sorace a full scholarship, and when that didn't convince the high school grad, he gave Sorace the hard sell, reminding him that Cleveland State was far enough away for him to be independent, but close enough to spend weekends at home with his family.

"I wanted him to go to Cleveland State for his wrestling and for the kind of person he was," Bonacci said. "I liked what I saw and what he did. I think he was outstanding and he is still outstanding."

Sorace was quiet, humble, and earned the respect of his fellow teammates, Bonacci said.

"Whatever he said, they would listen and he did it without being loud, but being very concerned and knowledgeable," Bonannci said.

Sorace left Cleveland State with a couple of school records and a bachelor's degree in education. He taught for 33 years at Twinsburg High School, working with at-risk students in the Occupational Work Program. Before his retirement in 2013, he spent two years as an assistant principal.

Through it all, he continued to encourage kids through wrestling. He coached at St. Edward in Lakewood, where the team won two state championships.

He coached at Twinsburg High School for four years. When he was named athletic director and couldn't coach anymore, he became an assistant coach.

Sorace serves as secretary of the Greater Cleveland Coaches Association, where he helped to start a scholarship campaign for student wrestlers.

After his retirement, he went back to coaching, this time middle school students.

"I've been able to give back to the wrestling community wherever I could," Sorace said.

In 2007, Sorace returned to Cleveland State for his induction into the University's Athletics Hall of Fame.

And on Oct. 13, Sorace will be in Columbus, one of nine inductees into the Ohio Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Bonacci nominated his former student.

"He's one of the few people I would nominate," Bonacci said. "He was an excellent wrestler and an excellent assistant coach. I think a lot of him."

Sorace was surprised when he was nominated, and even more surprised when he was selected as part of the 2016 class of inductees.

"I always look at my involvement as paying back for what the sport has done for me," Sorace said.

Email: gmace@recordpub.com

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