The Dennis McCann Story
By SETH SCHWARTZ
Venturing into the cornfields of northwest Indiana in the mid 1960s to attend St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, Dennis McCann was unsure which path held his future.
Stepping onto the wrestling mat for the first time as a freshman, he ended up becoming a four-year starter [at 145-157] and found a love for the sport. The small school experience benefitted McCann who soaked up everything possible from coach Bill Jennings.
A generous soul who has an innate ability to maximize his athletes’ potential and provide guidance off the mat, McCann made his mark as a program builder on a number of levels at Gordon Tech and Maine South. While recording over 300 wins, his influence on hundreds of kids is profound.
Starting from scratch in 1970, McCann pulled students from all corners of the school and molded a respectable squad with a stable of hardnosed, blue collar, ethnic kids from the North Side that battled Mt. Carmel, St. Laurence, Brother Rice and Mendel Catholic for the conference crown.
“We had young aggressive coaches who were close in age and had a lot in common,” said McCann, who graduated St. Patrick High School in 1965. “Everyone wanted to help each other. It was an incredible place and time.”
Joining the state in 1974, Gordon Tech won the Catholic League 1973 and ‘75, but had a pattern of getting knocked off in the regional by East Leyden.
In 1980, St. Laurence freshman Keith Healy taught the staff a valuable lesson.
“Watching Healy beat our seniors we knew we needed to start a kids program,” said McCann, who founded the Ram Wrestling Club in 1982.
Assistant football coach Bill Bodle instituted a model weight training program light years ahead of its time which gave the football and wrestling teams a sizeable lift.
“Our principal Walter Wilczek gave us the opportunity to move forward in a number of areas,” said Tom Winiecki, who was the head football coach. John Hoerster, Joe Bunge, Dick Versace, Bob Ociepka, Tony Barone, [the late] Steve Pappas, Will Rey, Bob Carskie, John Urban and Mike Hennessey were among the coaches who went on to distinguished careers.
“Dennis believed the sun shined on all of us. He was happy for everyone’s success. He did a great job of promoting wrestling. As the sport grew [to four levels by 1979] they got their own room. He was not judgmental, he treated everyone as if he were special. Dennis was always positive and got so many kids involved in the sport. Whether it was the best or worst kid, he gave everyone the same attention and opportunities.”
Coming on board in the 1982-83 season, Craig Fallico made the mistake of announcing he beat his top wrestlers, Art Alaniz [now a Chicago policeman].
McCann’s photographic memory kicked in and he corrected, ‘You beat the brother [Gene],’ and proceeded to pull out the scorebook to prove the point. After that, it was a perfect marriage.
“Dennis is the finest man I know,” said Fallico, who also retired following this past season. “His integrity, work ethic, loyalty and virtuosity are unparalleled. People were attracted to his wisdom.”
In 1986 they moved to Maine South and assisted Tom Ziemek. McCann took over in 1992 and they won their first Central Suburban League title  since 1974. In 1998, McCann wanted to have a chance to watch his son Kevin [who attended Notre Dame High School] and changed spots as Fallico became head coach. The results were the same as they took 11 conference championships starting in 1999 along with seven state placers and 30 qualifiers.
Tragedy occurred when Kevin and best friend Brett Harman [of Maine South] were murdered in fall of 2004.
“It was the worst thing to ever happen in my life, but I wanted to continue because that’s what Kevin would have wanted - to work and help kids,” said McCann. “I live each day to honor their memory.”
Fallico sees McCann’s resiliency.
“I don’t know anybody else that could go through that and still be as loving, giving and committed as he is,” he said.
McCann is still active coaching freshman football at Maine South.
Dennis McCann is a class act and one of the nicest people I have met in wrestling or anywhere. He was coaching at Maine South when I was an official. He always took the time out to ask how things were going and gave me compliments on my officiating. I always looked forward to seeing him and am glad that he is still helping people out. Sports needs more people like Dennis.
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