WADSWORTH — The world —as well as the sport of wrestling – lost an indelible footprint on Wednesday when Mike Kallai Sr. died from a massive heart attack while vacationing with his family in Tennessee.
Calling hours and funeral arrangements have not been made yet for Kallai, 57.
He is survived by his wife Jennifer, children Vanessa, Joe, Mike Jr. and Zak, mother Ruth, brothers Chris, Arthur, Chuck, George and Gus, and sisters Angel, Marretta, Aline and Ester.
His influence went well beyond his family as numerous wrestlers found Kallai’s ear when life got rough.
“He was someone to go to for advice, good or bad,” said Medina wrestling coach Chad Gilmore, who wrestled under Kallai as a member of the Grizzlies. “You knew whatever he was telling you was true. He taught life lessons. He was my go-to guy in high school, on and off the mat.
“He’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. He was at my wedding and my sister’s wedding. The sport is losing one of its foundations as well as his family and everyone he touched. He was a great strength.”
A wrestler for Coventry High School, Kallai began his assistant coaching career at Barberton before coming to Wadsworth in 1991, creating lasting relationships along the way.
Winner of the Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Association 2009 Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award, Kallai embodied everything the honor bestowed.
A tireless worker for the Grizzlies and Barberton’s Chief of Police, Kallai was the behind-the-scenes guy who made sure the little things were taken care of.
“Mike was a giver,” said Bob Pruesse, a longtime writer for Amateur Wrestling News. “He was the guy that shunned any personal recognition, but he was a bedrock guy in Ohio wrestling.
“He was doing the dirty work, the details that most people don’t want to be involved in. He was low key, but you could always count on him. His passing is too soon. Definitely too soon. There aren’t too many people like Mike Kallai. He will be greatly missed.”
An assistant at Wadsworth for 19 years, Kallai enjoyed watching his sons Mike Jr. and Zak place at state while seeing Joe become a four-time district qualifier. Zak went on to become Case Western Re-serve University’s first and only four-time All-American.
Kallai’s nephews, Chris and Matt, were state champions for Wadsworth and Josh, another nephew, was a state placer as well.
But his impact on the sport wasn’t limited to just his immediate family as he mentored countless state champions and placers for the Grizzlies while teaching them how to become mature, young men in the process.
“He was an amazing guy,” said Wadsworth’s Brad Squire, who was a part of this year’s state cham-pionship team. “Whenever you needed him, he was there. His personality cheered people up.
“I’d be in a bad mood, but being around ‘Chief,’ he would bring my spirits up and really make the whole team excited. I really don’t know how to explain it, he was a great person and a great coach. The world lost a very special man.”
Off the mat, Kallai was an incredible advocate for the sport of wrestling. He was the catalyst for the state duals championship coming to fruition in the 2011-12 season.
Set to retire as chief of police this fall, Kallai was set to take on another responsibility, becoming the president of the OHSWCA and Greater Cleveland Coaches and Officials Association.
“He brought so much to the team, not only with his family,” Wadsworth wrestling coach John Gramuglia said. “He’s a great father figure and great coach. He touched so many people in so many ways. He was quiet about it. It’s hard to say in words. It’s a pretty empty feeling right now. He meant a lot to so many people.”
Kallai’s father George died at a young age, so it was up to him to be the foundation for his brothers and sisters growing up.
The experience taught him to become a gentle giant, taking chaotic situations and making them tolerable.
That’s why the news hit hard when former coaches, wrestlers and friends learned of his death.
“He held everything together,” Gramuglia said. “The kids said, ‘At least we won (the state title) with him. It’ll never be the same.’ We’ll never get this feeling of all of us together.
“We have to celebrate his life. The journey has been unbelievable. He was so genuine about everything. He wanted more time. He realized you’re only here for so long. He taught us that you have to have love for other people.”
Kallai meant something to everyone as media members would turn to him for a quick history lesson or just to talk about the sport he loved so much.
He would stick around the mats – whether at state or in the gym at Wadsworth – making sure everyone had what they needed before closing up shop.
If he wasn’t fulfilling his duties as chief of police, Kallai, who was the backbone of the Grizzly Invitational Tournament, was somewhere near a mat, preparing his students for life.
“In my 20-plus years of covering wrestling, I’ve never known a kinder man,” longtime sportswriter Pat Galbincea said. “Of all the people I’ve come across in my life, he’s got to be in the Top 5.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.