WILLIMANTIC — Coaches from Connecticut have been recognized as the National Coach of the Year before by the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) dating back to 1968. But a state wrestling coach has never been honored – until now.
Windham High’s Patrick Risley is the first wrestling coach from Connecticut to be named as the national coach of the year. He was recognized recently at the national banquet in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“I’m just tickled pink,” Risley said. “There are a lot of great coaches (here) with unbelievable resumes. You never know what to expect. It was quite a shock.”
Risley was a finalist on two other occasions in 2008 and 2013 but he wasn’t selected. This time, he was honored. “My phone has been blowing up,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming. So many people are saying so many nice things.”
It’s been a very successful career in wrestling for Risley, who has led Windham to seven state championships – five in Class S, including five in the last seven seasons, and two in Class M. His Whippets have finished second in Class M five times and once in Class S.
Risley had led Windham to three Eastern Connecticut Conference championships in 2004, 2015 and 2015.
“I’ve been surrounded by great people,” Risley said. “I bleed (Windham) blue in the room. I am proud to bring (this award) back to Windham High School for all of the great assistant coaches and wrestlers who have helped me over the years.”
He is five wins shy of joining an elusive club of state wrestling coaches with more than 500 dual meet victories. Risley’s career record at Windham (1999-2018) and Plainville High (1989-93) is 495-207-2. He will become the fourth coach in Connecticut history to reach 500 wins next winter.
“Success breeds success. (The kids) want to be on a winning program,” Risley said. “They want to be a part of it. They see the success and want to be a part of it.”
Risley began his coaching career in Plainville, where he coached the Blue Devils in wrestling for five seasons. He was the first varsity boys soccer coach at Plainville and the freshman coach with the baseball team. Risley coached the Plainville American Legion baseball team for a time.
He came to Windham in 1994 and spent five seasons as an assistant coach to Hall of Fame wrestling coach Brian Crudden before taking over the program in 1999. Risley coached the middle school boys soccer program for 12 years and will enter his fifth year as the varsity girls soccer coach in September.
A few years ago, the girls soccer position at Windham opened up days before the season so Risley stepped in to help out. He is still there.
“I coach because I love it and I can have an impact on kids,” Risley said.
Since 2006, Risley has also been serving as Windham High’s athletic director. He is one of the rare ADs in Connecticut who still coaches a varsity team. It’s virtually unheard of for an AD to coach two varsity programs and run an athletic department.
When he was been interviewed for the athletic director 13 years ago, he insisted that he be allowed to continue coaching wrestling. “That was the big question mark,” Risley said. “I didn’t apply (originally) because I said I wouldn’t stop coaching. It’s a passion of mine.”
The help he receives from assistant coach Mike Haggerty with the paperwork makes it possible for Risley to coach the wrestling team and run the athletic department as well.
“We’re a tight-knit family (at Windham) and a family,” Risley said. “We take pride in the work we do here. The kids will work hard if they know you love them.”