Hart of the matter: New Hampton wrestling coach relishes chance
Family matters most.
It's an adage that rings true on many levels for new Hampton wrestling coach Chris Hart, where family, Talbot wrestling and great achievements meet at a confluence.
And the results could point to a special time for the school's wrestling program.
The name Hart rings a bell around the Hampton area, and for good reason. Hart's nephew, Jake, a 2013 graduate, arguably was the greatest wrestler in school history. He finished his senior year 44-1 and earned Hampton its second individual state champion.
After longtime coach Joe Bursik, whom Hart assisted for 10 years, resigned in 2015, Hart initially had little interest in the job. The Hampton alum runs his own estate planning and wealth advisory business, Hart Financial Group LLC, which has an office in Pittsburgh as well as Naples, Fla.
An avid golfer who carries a plus-1 handicap and competes in many local pro-am and Tri-State PGA events, Hart flirted heavily with the opportunity to spend the winter at his office in the Sunshine State.
“(Golf) became a passion of mine after giving up football,” said Hart, who consistently is ranked at or near the top of the Pittsburgh Business Times annual “Top Regional Businessman Golfers” list.
But there was a more pressing issue. Nephew Justin Hart, Jake's younger brother, was entering seventh grade, and the junior high team had a coaching vacancy.
“When nobody stepped into the junior high job, the last thing I wanted to see was that team with a lot of talent on it coached by someone with the wrong skill set. I wanted to coach my nephew after coaching Jake since he was in diapers. … I got a call from my nephew saying ‘Uncle, would you coach me?' ”
Hart took the middle school job. Two years later, the varsity job opened. Again, with the prospect of spending his winters in Florida, he had a choice.
“It wasn't an easy decision,” he said. “But I'll put that on hold for four years to coach this group of kids and see where it goes from there.”
Hart is a former three-sport athlete at Hampton who was a part of the 1993 wrestling squad that placed second in team points at the PIAA individual tournament.
He also finished third in individuals that year on a team that, coincidently, featured Hampton's only other state champion, three-time Edinboro All-American Jason Robison. Hart also excelled in football and was offered by many Division I schools, including West Virginia.
But Edinboro gave him the opportunity to wrestle and play football, an idea he admits “was way too difficult,” having to continually add weight for football and drop it for wrestling.
Hart still wrestled in open tournaments collegiately but focused on football. He became one of the top quarterbacks in school history, leading the team to a 30-12 record in four years and a PSAC championship in 1995. He was inducted into the Edinboro Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.
Despite his football accomplishments, he said his passion for wrestling never wavered, and he has relished the opportunity to coach at elementary, junior high and high school levels.
“Wrestling to me is the ultimate sport,” he said. “There's no other like it out there. … You have the team and individual aspects of it. I have worked with some people in the past, did some quarterback training for fun. But wrestling is always near and dear to my heart.”
Now, Hart will follow nephew Justin and his fellow eighth graders to varsity, where he has a familiarity with a number of the younger wrestlers.
“I have a great group of kids not only coming back but a number of freshmen coming up to make a significant impact,” Hart said. “Justin was a junior high state champ last year and went undefeated, had a very successful year. … We have a chance to be one of the elite sports in the district over the next four years.”
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.