Don Jantzen, a longtime coach who helped build the Shoreham-Wading River wrestling program into prominence and whose sons combined for six state titles as Wildcats, died suddenly March 4. He was 60.
A family man who married his high school sweetheart, Jantzen was remembered as a hard worker who helped mentor generations of students.
“He will be missed by the whole community, not just the wrestling,” said Paul Jendrewski, a former wrestling coach and athletic director at Shoreham. “He was a really good person. One of my best buddies.”
Jendrewski began coaching wrestling at Shoreham in 1990, he said, and two years later Jantzen joined him as an assistant. A standout wrestler in his own right — he won the 1972 county championship for Comsewogue and later wrestled at C.W. Post — Jantzen left an indelible mark on the program over the next 15 years.
When Jendrewski accepted the athletic director position in 2001, Jantzen became the varsity head coach. He retired after the 2007 season when his youngest son, Corey, clinched the second of his two state titles.
After Corey’s win in the 135-pound final to end his senior season, he and his father shared a long hug on the Times Union Center floor in Albany, savoring a moment that they had both worked so hard to reach.
“We knew exactly what we were thinking,” Corey said after the match.
After Jantzen retired, Joe Condon replaced him as the varsity coach and he remains in that position today. Condon first came aboard as the JV coach when Jantzen took over the varsity.
“He’s just a great person,” Condon said. “The way he taught, the way he instilled to work hard, to be successful. He really motivated all the wrestlers to be the best.”
A soft-spoken man who rarely screamed during matches, Jantzen was known for having a deep knowledge of the technical aspects of wrestling.
“He was probably the best on Long Island,” Jendrewski said.
Jantzen coached the crab ride, a technique rarely used at the time, Jendrewski said. His oldest son, Jesse, made the crab ride a frequent tool in his arsenal as he became one of the greatest wrestlers in New York history. Corey also became well known for his crab ride.
When Corey was young, he’d often attend the varsity team’s practices and matches. Jendrewski said it was like having another assistant coach.
“I’ll never forget, he was like an 8-year-old kid on our bench and he would know more moves than half the kids on the team.”
Jesse, a 2000 graduate, won four state titles at Shoreham — a feat matched for the first time by a Suffolk County wrestler last month by Ward Melville senior Nick Piccininni. Jesse went on to win an NCAA title while wrestling at Harvard University.
“It seemed like every time he did something amazing or spectacular, or that seemed like the climbing of Mount Everest, the next major event he’d outdo that one,” Don Jantzen said in a 2011 interview about Jesse.
Corey followed his older brother’s footsteps to Harvard as well.
The brothers have made a name for themselves in a new way recently with small roles in the wrestling movie “Foxcatcher,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards. Corey had a credited role as Wrestler #4 and Jesse had an uncredited role while also working as the movie’s fight choreographer, according to IMDB.
For as dominant of wrestlers as his sons were, Don Jantzen remained committed as a coach to helping all the wrestlers on the team.
“He really cared about the kids,” Condon said. “If you were willing to put the time in and you worked hard, he would do anything for you. He would take you as far as you could go.”
Jantzen was instrumental in starting the youth wrestling program in the Shoreham district. He also coached at Comsewogue prior to Shoreham.
His life spanned far beyond the wrestling world. He worked as a Suffolk County police officer, he painted and most recently worked in real estate. He and Jendrewski coached Little League baseball together as well.
Jantzen, born March 15, 1954, is survived by his wife, Debbie, and three daughters: Jamie, Doni-Melissa and Debi-Michelle. All three of his daughters excelled athletically. Jamie, the oldest daughter, was a gymnast and Doni-Melissa and Debi-Michelle starred in field hockey. Doni-Melissa was a two-time All-American for Hofstra University where she graduated in 2007 and Debi-Michelle currently plays for Princeton University.
Jantzen was predeceased by his brother John, who was killed in 1991 at the age of 32. John, who was also a police officer, was shot dead at Big Barry’s restaurant in Lake Grove, according to New York Times archives, when he stumbled into a domestic dispute while off-duty. Don, who was meeting his brother at the restaurant to paint while it was closed, was the first to arrive at the infamous crime scene.
After retiring as Shoreham’s varsity coach, Jantzen would keep tabs on the wrestling program from time to time, Condon said, amid a busy schedule.
“He was one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known,” he said.