Francis Yogi Michael was one of the most notable figures in local wrestling because of his expertise as an official or wrestler.
Yet he still took time for others.
That's why the 65-year-old will be sorely missed after passing away on Thursday.
He gave me a lot of advice and when I first got into officiating, current Wyoming Valley Conference official Corry Hanson said. I really wanted to do a varsity match and Yogi pulled me aside and told me, ‘Here's what you have to do to be successful,' and that really meant a lot to me coming from him.
Hanson is now one of the top WVC officials and always seems to work the big events.
But that's just the kind of guy Yogi was.
Even though Michael was no longer refereeing at the current time, he was a strong presence at every important tournament, helping out by running the event or just giving a boost of confidence.
He was just a great guy and it's not going to be the same walking into any big wrestling meet this year and not seeing Yogi, Hanson noted.
Recently, Michael – who was a high school and collegiate referee for 38 years – was best-known as an official and tournament director for the District 2 Class 3A Championships, where he held the post for eight years. He took two years off when he stopped refereeing a few years ago, but was interested to get back into the action he loved so much and was the director again for the 2012 postseason.
It's impossible to replace him, District 2 Wrestling Chairman Jay Starnes said. There's a lot of great guys in the area in the sport, but there is no replacement for someone like that. He understood the perspective of the sport from so many angles. It's hard to find people with that type of experience who are still involved in everything. He's just had so much experience.
Michael was so precise at being a referee that he was lauded on many occasions, working five PIAA Individual Championships, two NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships and 30 NCAA Division I Qualifiers. Those accolades are earned by being selected as the top official in a respective area by one's peers.
Wrestling was important to him and that's why he did a very good job at refereeing, said former Wilkes wrestling coach John Reese, who recruited Michael and coached him for one season before Yogi transferred to the University of North Carolina-Pembroke.
Reese became one of Michael's closest friends and presented him with his induction plaque at the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony in 2009. Even though Michael didn't graduate from Wilkes, Reese always invited him to every Wilkes wrestling reunion that the legendary coach held.
He did so many good things for so many people. He was just a special person and had that kind of personality that everyone liked, Reese added. He was a special guy.
Michael's notoriety started when he was in high school, wrestling for GAR in 1965 and became the first – and still only – wrestling state champion in school history. He busted onto the scene prior to his state title by claiming a medal at all four District 2 tournaments in which he participated.
After high school and college, he went on to coach the sport, forging the beginnings of the Bishop Hoban program as well as coaching at GAR. He is enshrined in the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame, the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Officials Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame, which he was just inducted into this past May.
His expertise carried into other sports as well, also coaching volleyball, cross country and tennis, while officiating football and baseball. For baseball, he was an American Legion umpire and Region 5 Director, and for that he was enshrined in the Pennsylvania American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.
Michael's funeral will be held at 9:30 a.m. Monday from Mamary/Durkin Funeral Services, 59 Parrish St., Wilkes-Barre, with services at 10 in St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church, Park Avenue, Wilkes-Barre. Friends may call on Sunday from 3-7 p.m. at the funeral home.