Daft wins wrestling Coach of the Year award
"I didn't even know wrestling was a sport until someone asked me to join the team in high school," he said. "They were looking for someone to wrestle in the heavy weight class and I decided to give it a try. That was before they had a limit in that class, so I ended up wrestling some 400-pound guys and it was pretty brutal."
Daft, a Jamestown resident, is now making sure that Exeter-West Greenwich High School students cannot make the same statement. The soft-spoken physical education and health teacher was just voted the wrestling Coach of the Year by the Rhode Island Coaches Association for the second time in the last four years. He just finished his fifteenth year coaching the team.
"I was excited to win the award, but it really is a testament to the team and the hard work they have done all year," Daft said.
His team finished 14-3-1 this season, won their division and placed seventh in the state, but only after Daft pulled them together following a 2-3 start to the year.
"He is very good at relating to his students. What he says makes a lot of sense to them, so I know whatever pep talk he gave to them after the beginning of the season they took to heart," his wife, Darlene, said.
He is so well-respected by his wrestlers that they even stop in his office after school to talk about their off-season wrestling pursuits.
Team captain Kevin Luczak sought his coach's advice Monday afternoon and offered praise for Daft.
"He has so much respect for his wrestlers. Wrestling takes discipline and hard work and he drills that into us. I think the person that gave the speech at the awards banquet pretty much summed it up. He is a great coach," Luczak said.
Daft is quick to deflect the praise to his team, who he said are the real reason for his success.
"I am very proud of this team. Sometimes being a small school can be a challenge, but the kids who stick it out, their success shows," he said. "We have 14 people on the team and 12 of them went to sectionals and five went on to states."
Wrestlers, he feels, sometimes have to work harder than other sports and said his team gives as much as they can.
"It takes a certain type of athlete to put it all on the line with no excuses. Wrestling is a team sport, but it is also very individual and they rise to the challenge every time," Daft said.
He prefers to let his coaching do the talking and is so humble that even Principal Denise Boule did not know about the award until nearly two weeks after he had received it.
"He has the best interests of his athletes at heart, not just on the mat, but in school and life as well. He goes out of his way to give them as many positive experiences as he can," Boule said. "I admire him as a coach and as a person."
His two biggest fans, his daughter, Samantha and son, Wyatt, sometimes accompany him to practices or matches.
"They love watching him," Darlene Daft said. "I remember the first time he won the award was the year Wyatt (now age 4) was born. Here he was coaching that team, and he had a three-yearold and new baby at home and somehow he was able to do a great job at both."
"He is very passionate about wrestling. When he is coaching, he really gets to know the kids and their families. He cares a lot about those kids," she concluded.
The coach will lose only two seniors this year, so he hopes to carry on his winning tradition next season.