Mike Milkovich, a Distinguished Member inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1983, passed away on Monday, at the age of 96.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Ferfolia Funeral Home in Sagamore Hills, Ohio, and are pending.
“When people are interested in exploring the development and culture of youth wrestling in the United States, they need to look no further than legendary coach Mike Milkovich Sr. and the dynasty that he built and sustained at Maple Heights High School during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” said Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “But there is much more to the man than his phenomenal coaching career, including his innovative promotion of the sport.
“On behalf of our Board of Governors and the Hall of Fame, we extend our sincere sympathies to Big Mike’s family, friends, former wrestlers, students and those who were fortunate enough to have gone fishing with him in the Florida Keys.”
In addition to being a successful wrestling coach, Milkovich was also a teacher, developer, promoter and builder of the sport. He was an Ohio state wrestling champion and helped Garfield Heights High School in Garfield Heights, Ohio, win the state team title in 1941. After being an All-American at Kent State University, he began his coaching career at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights, Ohio, where there was no organized wrestling program.
Over 27 years, his teams produced 265 dual meet victories against a mere 25 defeats. They enjoyed 16 undefeated seasons, won 10 state championships, eight runner-up trophies and 21 conference titles. Included were winning streaks of 102 and 59 dual meets. Milkovich also guided the Mustangs to a record 103 consecutive dual meet victories from 1963-72, which is still a record.
Complementing his record on the mat was his flair for promotion of the sport. He attracted attention to his program with the use of mat maids, cheerleaders, pep clubs, booster clubs, junior high and junior varsity matches and the “radical” innovation of holding the meets at night.
Among his greatest wrestlers were two of his own sons – Tom, who won four Big Ten championships and an NCAA championship at Michigan State University, and Pat, a four-time national finalist and twice an NCAA champion at Michigan State. His sons, Mike Jr., and Dan also wrestled for him. Mike Jr. was a state champion and All-American at Kent State and Dan was third in the state. Pat was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Member in 2000 while Mike’s nephew, Jamie, receive the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award from the Ohio Chapter of the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Milkovich never limited his horizons to Maple Heights. An educator of coaches and wrestlers, he conducted clinics across the country. He developed and published a practice plan for both high school and college coaches. His book on how to teach wrestling sold thousands of copies. A video tape series on wrestling techniques received nationwide acclaim.
His achievements and his efforts for the development of wrestling earned widespread recognition. In 1969, he served as coach and manager of the first United States gold medal Junior World team. In 1976, he was chosen national high school coach of the year.
And in a rare tribute to any athletic figure, the Mike Milkovich Middle School was dedicated in Maple Heights in September of 1983.