From the time he was a youngster, Mark Lawrence gave wrestling everything he could as a competitor, an official and as a coach. In the later years of his life, it was wrestling that gave Lawrence a boost after he suffered a severe stroke 20 years ago.
Lawrence, the former head coach at Glastonbury High and member of the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, died earlier this month on February 14. He was 70.
He led the Glastonbury High wrestling team for 17 years from 1980-97. The Tomahawks, as they were known in those years, won two CCC West championships and had a record of 250-147 under Lawrence.
Lawrence helped turn the Tomahawks in a team that was ranked in the state coaches top 10 poll and frequently engaged with tough battles with Simsbury, Windham, Manchester and other top teams in the state of that era.
“He changed my life. He taught me how to be tough, honorable, no nonsense, respectful, hard-working and to leave my excuses at home,” said Scott Babun, who graduated from Glastonbury in 1986 and wrestled under Lawrence.
Lawrence was a physical education teacher in the Glastonbury school system and also coached football and baseball.
He was an assistant coach on Glastonbury’s two state championship football teams in 1984 and 1989. The undefeated 1984 team (11-0) won the first football state championship in school history. Lawrence was the defensive coordinator on the 1989 squad that beat Cheshire by a point, 16-15.
After stepping down from the Glastonbury wrestling program following the 1997 season, Lawrence was soon back on the mat in Rockville in 2000 as an assistant coach under Patrick Cox.
However in 2001, Lawrence suffered a severe stroke that ended his teaching career. But it couldn’t stop his wrestling career. He persevered despite injuries to his left arm and left leg. He had to walk with a cane and eventually had to use a walker to get around.
Nancy Lawrence, his wife of 43 years, said that he could move his left arm and left leg but both were numb. Lawrence couldn’t coach as he did before the stroke but did whatever he could.
“Even on days, he didn’t feel good, it was important for him to be there,” Cox said. “The kids loved him. They loved his dedication. The kids really appreciated and understood that he was going through a rough time. I don’t remember his missing a match or a practice.”
After the stroke, Lawrence remained on Cox’s staff in Rockville. The Rams won the CCC East title in 2003 and 2004. Rockville finished second at the Class L championship meet in 2004 – their best-ever finish in a CIAC tournament. Lawrence was named the assistant coach of the year in Class L in 2004 by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.
Cox and Lawrence coached one more in Rockville before Cox resigned to take a job in Coventry.
Lawrence found another place to contribute – Wethersfield. He joined one of his former Glastonbury wrestlers – Ken Statin, who was an assistant coach under Al Paulekas. Statin became Wethersfield’s head coach in 2006-07 and with Lawrence, they led the Eagles to their first CCC West championship in 2007.
“He was more than happy to help. He loved helping people,” Statin said. “He had a significant impact and a positive impact on people’s lives. He didn’t mince words. He looked out for his wrestlers and cared about them as people and not just kids on the mat.”
When Statin stepped down after the 2010 campaign, Lawrence remained with Wethersfield under Rich Scoppetto and Jim Arnold before finally stepping away from the sport he loved following the 2019 season at the age of 68.
“It gave him a purpose,” Arnold said. “He would be at practice every day and open the room for me. He would be sitting in that corner. He would be that clock guy and he would stay until the last (wrestler) left. He was a huge asset for me.
“He was always there and willing to do whatever you asked,” Arnold said. And Lawrence led by example.
“It gave the kids some perspective,” Arnold said. “This guy is showing up every day and never complaining. He is out there trying to do the best he can to help.”
Lawrence was inducted into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2005, receiving the Medal of Courage award. He was a guest at the chapter’s last three induction banquets and proudly wore his Hall of Fame jacket at weekend tournaments.
“He was really inspired. He really wanted to coach,” Lawrence’s wife, Nancy, said. “He just loved the program. He liked working with the athletes and just helping them succeed and forge forward in life. It was his passion.”
Lawrence grew up in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania and wrestled in junior high school and at Donegal High School. Lawrence attended Springfield College, where he wrestled under Hall of Fame coach Doug Parker from 1969-72.
Lawrence was an wrestling official for eight years in western Massachusetts and Connecticut before taking over in Glastonbury.
Added Cox, “It (wrestling) was in his blood from the time he was a pup. He gave it everything. And wrestling paid him back.”
Lawrence was a volunteer for Special Olympics Connecticut for 30 years and was also a Boy Scout leader. Due to the pandemic, a celebration of his life will be held later this year. Online condolences may be left here.