The great Dave Riggs gets a whole lot of credit – and rightfully so – for helping jump-start Coventry High School’s wrestling dynasty by winning the Comets’ first individual state championship as a senior in 1973.
Riggs, who would go on to become an outstanding coach at Perry High School, was first in the 105-pound weight class a little more than 44 years ago, showing everyone in the program that yes, a kid from Coventry could all the way to the top. It helped put the Comets on the map, as they finished tied for 21st place as a team in the Class A-AA competition with 15 points.
The Comets had not scored a single point in the 1972 tournament.
But what gets lost in the shuffle is that another senior, a young man by the name of Charles "Chuck" Kallai, kept that momentum going the following year in 1974 by placing second at 145. That vaulted the Comets all the way up to seventh place with 25 points. It was … well, a meteoric rise.
The only downer was that Ohio High School Athletic Association records still recognize his last name as "Kallay." In addition, a few years later, the last name of Dale Huston, who was a co-head coach of the Comets along with Dick Miller, was spelled on the official records as Houston.
Oh, well. That’s not really a big deal. Those mistakes were corrected when those last names appeared again a few years on Coventry’s return visits to the state tournament.
Much more important is the fact that what Chuck did was so critical, so essential in the grand scheme of things, proving that Riggs’ accomplishment wasn’t a fluke. Neither Riggs nor those 1973 Comets were, as it were, shooting stars, blazing brightly for a few brief moments, and then, just as quickly, fading away, never to be seen again.
No, the Comets – both individually and as a team – were here to stay, a bright light that wouldn’t be extinguished quickly. Actually, Coventry was just getting started.
If Chuck’s near-championship performance had come four years later, three years later – even two years later – the interruption of that one year would have choked off the buzz that Rigg’s title had created. It would have been a real blow.
Out of sight, out of mind, as they say.
But that Chuck’s runner-up finish came literally on the heels of Riggs’ crown – just 12 months later in the very next state tournament, with no void in between – stoked Coventry’s flame and kept it going.
Sadly, Chuck Kallai passed away on July 22 at the way, way too young age of 61.
The celebration of his life is a joyful and key reminder of all that. It is an opportunity to tell that long-ago story of one of the greatest times not just in Coventry sports history, but in the history of the entire school system.
Actually, it is one of the most impressive feats ever by any program at any school in Northeast Ohio.
After a step back in the 1975 state tournament, with the Comets finishing in a 15-way tie for 61st place with one point, they went back to work in 1976, placing a lofty third with 61.5 points in the first year of the Class AA event. A separate tourney had started for the Class AA and A schools as wrestling continued to grow by leaps and bounds.
To show that the Comets could stay near the top, they were third again in 1977, increasing their point total by nearly 30 from the year before by getting 90.5.
What happened next – the next three seasons, actually – was something to behold. The Comets won the AA title in each of those seasons.
Coventry rolled to the 1978 crown – it wasn’t even close – by accumulating 156.5 points, or 35 more than defending state champion Columbus St. Francis DeSales, which had to settle for second this time with 121.5 Highland, the Comets’ arch rival in the Suburban League, was fourth.
Fittingly so, Gus Kallai, Chuck’s younger brother, led off Coventry’s parade of four state champions by winning at 126 pounds. Right after him was Randy Glover with a title at 132. Keith Foxx (155) and Bill Potts (167) also triumphed.
Four titlists. It’s no wonder Coventry had so many points.
Mike Potts (175) chipped in with a second-place finish, while Mike Spurr (112) was third and Mike Scott (185) fourth.
The Comets were even more dominating in 1979, winning the state title by 51.5 points. They had 131.5 to runner-up Columbus Watterson’s 81. Highland was third with 80, setting up a real showdown between the w o schools the following year.
Coventry had four individual state champions in Ralph Glover (132), Gus Kallai (138), Mike Potts (175) and Mike Scott (185).
Ray Hughes (104) was fourth.
It was a Suburban League dogfight in 1980, with the Comets finishing first with 106 points, just nine in front of runner-up Highland (97). No one else was close. Oregon Cardinal Stritch was a distant third with 63.5 points.
Jim Florian, who coached those Highland squads, once told me that the Suburban League dual matches between the Comets and Hornets during that period of time was like "a 1927 New York Yankees intrasquad game (that Yankees team is considered the best in baseball history). There were heavy hitters in every weight class on both teams. It was a ‘Murderers’ Row’ for both us and Coventry."
The Comets had two state champions – the same number as Highland -- in the Potts brothers, John (167) and Mike (185).
Coventry won the team title by getting four other placers in Rick Klemp (second at 155), Ted Roth (third in unlimited), Keith Harpster (fifth at 119) and Frank Parvin (fifth at 175).
The three-time defending state champions made a good run again in 1991, placing ninth, while Highland finally won the title, giving the Suburban League four team titles in a row.
Coventry would go on to win two more state championships in 1993 (Division III) and ’96 (II) under the guidance of Randy Glover.
The Comets from 1978-80 were a machine from top to bottom. It started with the fact that the kids arrived at the high school well-trained. Bob Kutz, an extremely dedicated and knowledgeable coach at what was then known as Erwine Junior High School, was way ahead of his time with his ability to teach the inner nuances of the sport. Kutz was one of a kind in a lot of ways. He was a classroom teacher, coached wrestling and worked full-time at Firestone overnight building tires.
How did he do all that?
Similarly, how did those long-ago Comets do all that?
The answer to the latter question is directly tied not just to the great Dave Riggs, but also to the great Chuck Kallai.