Shawn Cantos has come a long way to reach this point.
Contos, who currently serves as the Penn State University wrestling team’s strength and conditioning coach, competed this weekend at the Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa. Contos will wrestle in the freestyle division at 121 pounds (55 kilograms).
Contos has not stopped wrestling. He was fourth in the 2011 Freestyle Olympic Trials Qualifier, which is what got him here. He was second in the 2003 New York AC International. During his youth, he was a junior nationals champion.
It’s been quite a journey for the 36-year-old who graduated from St. John’s High School in 1993 and continued on at the University of Michigan.
Since leaving Northwest Ohio, Contos, who was taught the sport by his father, Mark, a well-known area wrestling coach, has bounced around quite a bit, crossing the country over the last 19 years while living in Michigan, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania. During that time, he’s continued to compete and has coached at a number of different places, high schools, and colleges while maintaining a healthy passion for the sport.
All the time and effort he’s invested in the sport that he’s been competing in since he was 9-years-old has him on the brink of a berth in the 2012 Olympic Games.
For the past three years, Contos, who credits his father with doing a fine job of raising him and teaching him the fundamentals of the sport, has worked with the Penn State wrestling squad under head coach Cael Sanderson, one of the world’s best-known wrestlers. Sanderson, who went 159-0 in his collegiate career at Iowa State University (1999-2002), won the gold medal at 84 kg in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and has built the Nittany Lions into a powerhouse program that has won back-to-back national championships, of which Contos has been an important member.
|While serving as an assistant
coach under Ralph Cubberly,
Shawn Contos working with
an Eastwood wrestler. (Press
photo by Lee Welch/Family
Before joining forces with Sanderson, Contos was an assistant coach at Eastwood and was instrumental in helping to build a program that finished second in Division II in both 2005 and ’06 and saw three wrestlers, Ben Llanas, Drew Lashaway, Eric Cubberly (twice), win state titles during his five-year run (2004-08) in Pemberville. The Eagles also won five Suburban Lakes League titles during Contos’ tenure under head coach Ralph Cubberly.
In addition to working with Penn State, Contos wrestles as part of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, a regional Olympic training center which has helped support him in his quest to qualify for the 2012 summer games.
Contos said his mentality has evolved, which helped shape his outlook on the sport.
“My perspective on wrestling has changed,” said Shawn. “I’m not focusing on the outcome as much – it’s about giving a good effort, giving your best and everything will take care of itself. I just want to go out there and represent myself and my coaches well.
“I’ve got the opportunity to do something special. This is it for me. I'm going to go hard and let it fall. I'm really focused and I've been training and having fun with (the process).”
Contos credits the Nittany Lion wrestlers with helping to inspire him to wrestle with an even greater passion in recent years.
“It brings back that excitement for competition back,” he said. “After seeing what's going on with the team, it ignited (my spirit).”
Today, he is married to his wife, Jolynn, a Waite graduate, and lives in State College, Penn. with their three daughters, ages 7, 5 and 2.
Shawn’s grandfather, the late Steve Contos, a 1945 Waite graduate. led the Indians to a state football championship as the team captain before having a record-setting collegiate career at Michigan State. Steve was offered an opportunity by legendary Chicago Bears coach George Halas to play professional football in the NFL, but instead chose to pursue other endeavors.
Steve, an education writer for The Press, once spoke of his decision.
“I was looking for a job and (the NFL) wasn't paying very much in those days,” he said. “I think a lot of college football players didn't go because they had a career they wanted to go in. A lot of the guys who went into professional football went in because it was the only thing they could do. As a result, I didn't follow up on it."
Shawn speaks highly of the relationship he had with his grandfather, who passed away July 15, 2005.
“He's my hero,” Shawn said. “Hearing people talk about him was (a joy). I felt fortunate that he was in my life — I can't tell you enough how important my Grandpa was to my development as a human being.”
Today, Shawn’s picture is hanging up next to his grandfather’s in the Toledo Athletic Hall of Fame at the Seagate Center in downtown Toledo, something Shawn is proud of.
In the end, Shawn says he tries to keep it all in perspective.
“Don't sacrifice the things that are the most valued (in life), control what you can control, have faith in God and have a good support system,” Shawn said.