THE OFFICIAL START of the high school wrestling season kicks off later this week. But an important piece will be missing this campaign.
Wrestling season will not be the same this time around with the passing of Francis Michael on Thursday. For the first time since his freshman season began at GAR in 1961, a season will start without the enjoyable presence of the man known as Yogi for his loveable character and pleasurable personality.
No one ever said a bad word about him and he left everyone with only good memories.
There's not just one good memory, current official Corry Hanson said. There's so many because Yogi always made everyone feel good.
There are so many feel-good moments of how Michael left impressions it would take an entire newspaper to list all of them. So here's my own experience.
As a wrestler for Bishop Hoban in the mid 1990s, I didn't know much about Michael except that he was once a teammate with my coach at the time, Alan Jones, and that I could understand why he had the nickname – because he was a loveable man that no one ever spoke a bad word about.
My first run in with the icon came during a dual meet when Yogi was refereeing and more than likely he slapped the mat to inform the crowd that my opponent had won with a first-period fall. Little did I know at the time that he was a very instrumental figure and part of the reason I had an opportunity to wrestle at Hoban since he helped establish the program in the 1970s.
Years later, now as a reporter on the wrestling beat, I got more acquainted with Michael as he was tournament director for the District 2 Class 3A Tournament.
It was then I realized that my initial thought of the man couldn't have been more accurate. Except that he was so much more than a loveable individual. He always made someone laugh with a short joke or just smiled for a quick pick-me-up while being sure to point out a quick tidbit about what's happening in a match.
In between those during a busy tournament for everyone, he was very hospitable asking can I get you guys anything? or just walking all the way across the gymnasium floor with a sheet of results.
It was just those little gestures that made any event in the area a pleasure to be a part of as a worker or spectator.
I think it's rare to see someone that everybody liked and would be happy all the time, former Wilkes wrestling coach John Reese said. Yogi always seemed happy to talk to you. He was always willing to help. He's the kind of guy that when you saw him you smiled and he smiled and he was very positive to be around.
Heck, even the wrestlers enjoyed being around Michael and that's not always the case when it comes to tournament directors or officials.
He was a firm presence making sure the proper attire was on correctly before, during or after a match. But once all that stuff was taken care, he was one of the first to walk over and congratulate a gold medalist.
One of his favorite things at any wrestling match was when the crowd got involved trying to influence a referee to give two points for a takedown that hadn't yet been finished.
He always loved when crowds would shout ‘Two, two, two,' we always had a little chuckle about that, said District 2 Wrestling Chairman Jay Starnes.
What they should be chanting now is One, one, one because that's the spot Yogi has reserved atop the most-missed list this wrestling season.
Dave Rosengrant covers wrestling for The Times Leader. He can be reached at [email protected]