WILLIAMSTOWN -- Ray Miro doesn't believe that he has directly made a young wrestler better on the mat.
He believes the improvement comes from the wrestler himself or herself. Miro, Mount Greylock Regional High School's head wrestling coach since 1991, just provides the guidance and the opportunity.
"They do the work," he said. "Some choose to do it; some choose to work through the times they're getting knocked down, and they get back up."
In almost 40 years as a teacher and coach, Miro has certainly provided plenty of wrestlers with countless opportunities. Because so many have made the most of it, Miro will receive the ultimate honor this weekend when he is inducted into the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is being held tonight at the Framingham Sheraton Hotel.
In 22 years at the helm of the Mountie wrestling program, Miro, a Long Island native, has led Greylock to 16 Berkshire County championships, including the last 14 in a row; eight Western Mass. championships; and 571 career wins.
Miro's wrestlers, with many tournament, Western Mass. and state championships to their credit, swear by what he's taught them.
"He is the lifeline to the Greylock wrestling program," said Ross Jackson, who graduated last year after wrestling for Greylock for six years.
But 22 years ago, Miro went to Williamstown and took over a program that was stuck in the middle of the Berkshire County pecking order.
"They'd finished somewhere in the middle of the pack in Western Mass.," Miro said. "Monument Mountain was the team back then. They were very strong. Pittsfield was strong.
"They were good kids. You could see that ... they weren't confident enough to compete at better levels."
That didn't change right away, either. Powerful programs aren't made overnight, and Miro knows that. He believes that, for the first few years, he got the young Mounties to understand the value of effort, as well as a belief in the work they were doing.
There were some tough lessons along the way -- Miro recalled a 1991 dual against McCann Tech at Drury, in which six consecutive Greylock wrestlers were pinned, starting at 125 pounds -- but eventually, the Mounties learned what needed to be done to win. They'd avenge that loss to McCann, as well as a number of others along the way.
In 1995, Greylock beat Monument Mountain, no small feat then or today. They beat eventual Division I state champion Agawam.
"They realized, ‘Hey, we can compete,' " Miro said.
That season earned Miro the state's Division III coach of the year award. In a way, Greylock hasn't looked back since.
Over the years, wrestling has shrunk as a sport in the Berkshires. The Greylock program now co-ops with all the North County schools -- Drury, Hoosac Valley and McCann Tech. Even with one of the biggest and best programs in the county, Miro worries about numbers.
"It's just been a battle," he said. "Over the last three years, I realized we were in trouble like those other programs were. We've started to pick kids back up. It's hard. It's a tough sport. You have to be a certain kind of kid to do the one-on-one type of thing. That doesn't mean other kids can't do it. A lot of kids don't give themselves the chance."
What helps Miro's case is that, over a career that started at Otter Valley in Vermont in 1982, he has been able to relate to high schoolers. It's not always easy. Teenagers change. Trends change.
"Kids aren't attracted to doing the same things as they were 25 years ago," Miro said. "One thing I do is we try to have a little bit more fun. The game face thing? You can't have that on all the time. Some guys I see, they never enjoy themselves. You've got to sit back and relax. These kids are fun to be around."
And the same wrestlers who spend those years on the mat working for Miro and the Mounties learn from him, both in practices -- in the multi-purpose room now known as "The Snake Pit" -- and out.
"He gave me a lot of advice on the mat," said John Carvalho, a Greylock assistant and a six-year wrestler for the Mounties who graduated in 2010. "He told me to do the best I could do, and not to give up. And off the mat, when I started to coach with him and I was having a tough time with college, he basically told me the same thing."
The accolades for individual wrestlers are great, but Miro takes just as much pride in watching wrestlers who don't get as many wins, but nevertheless improve.
And he doesn't judge his success solely by wins and losses. For Miro, that's no way to coach or to live.
"Wrestling isn't life," he said. "It might be part of your life, but it isn't life. If you can't bounce back from a loss, or a tough practice, the rest of life is going to be a lot more difficult."
Miro is 61 now. He knows he can't coach forever; he certainly can't wrestle on the mats the way he used to; and he's thought about when he'll step down at Greylock. It won't be after this season, and he's pretty sure he'll still be in Williamstown through the 2014-15 season, too.
He still likes the work required to become a winner, though. He doesn't take a year for granted, no matter what the county or Western Mass. may look like.
"People have asked me, ‘What's going to happen to the wrestling program?' " the coach said. "Before I showed up, there was a wrestling program. ... It will exist beyond me. I just feel real fortunate to have spent a good amount of time here."
And many of Miro's wrestlers feel just as fortunate to have competed for the now-Hall of Fame coach.
"He taught the team true values," Jackson said, "that sportsmanship and team unity builds an athlete just as much as the training.
"Without Coach Miro, Mount Greylock wrestling would not be nearly as successful as it is."
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