Josh Shields hopes to stay close to Burrell wrestling program despite departure as coach

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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | 7:15 PM


When Josh Shields stepped down as Burrell head wrestling coach a couple of weeks ago, he wanted to convey to the returning underclassmen that while he won’t have the same title, he wants to be present to help them reach their goals.

“Hopefully, I will be able to volunteer at the high school, but ultimately, that will be the decision of whoever takes over the program,” said Shields, who helped guide Burrell to nine WPIAL Class 2A titles in his 11 seasons.

“But I am lucky enough to live in Lower Burrell, and the Mat Factory is there where a lot of the Burrell guys go to. Whether I am attending high school practices during the weekdays or going to the Mat Factory, I still want to be helping out.”

With a young and growing family that includes wife Kylie, a former Burrell head girls volleyball coach, plus three children — Laker, Dawson, and Bodhi — born in the past four years, he said it was time to take a step back from the high demands of the head coaching position.

“It’s really been something that has been on my mind the past couple of years, and it all goes back to when I first came on (in the 2013-14 season),” said Shields, who compiled a 145-62 dual-meet record over his 11 seasons.

“The plan was to coach until we started our family, and from there, I would move on. At the end of last season, I pretty much knew and told the people closest to me that this year would be my last.”

Shields’ youngest celebrated his first birthday Wednesday.

“It was a very tough decision, but it was something I needed to do for the sake of my family,” he said.

“It’s not fair to the kids in the program who expect 110 percent from their head coach. I can’t work a full-time job and be a husband and a father while also being the best wrestling coach I can be. Unfortunately, something would have to give. For the time being, that is wrestling.”

Shields’ 145 wins rank first in program history. Shields’ coach while wrestling at Burrell, Chris Como, was 141-44 with four WPIAL team titles and a state title in 11 seasons before stepping down after the 2008-09 season.

Shields said that with knowing this season would be his last, it was special he was able to guide his team back to the top of WPIAL Class 2A after runner-up finishes in 2022 and 2023.

The Bucs advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals before dropping a pair of matches, the final one to District 10 champion Reynolds.

Shields also saw 10 of his wrestlers advance to the Southwest Regional in Altoona, and two — Cooper Hornack (139 pounds) and Cam Baker (107) — qualify for the state tournament in Hershey.

Como said Shields has carried himself with class, both as a wrestler and a coach. Como saw Shields earn three trips to the PIAA Class 2A tournament. He medaled twice, including winning silver as a senior.

Shields went on to a standout career at Mercyhurst, where he compiled a 106-22 record and earned All-American honors. He was inducted into the Mercyhurst Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.

Last October, he was enshrined into the National Wrestling Coaches Association’s Jim Koch Division II Hall of Fame.

“I’ve gone through the same path that Josh is taking now,” Como said. “You get to a point that your family is expanding, and you don’t have the same opportunity to dedicate the level of commitment required to be a head coach, especially in a program like Burrell’s.

“It is tough to get it out of your blood. The program kind of becomes a baby of your own. He wants to make sure the program is transitioned into good hands, and I am sure it will be.

“It’s been one of the greatest things in my coaching career and something I am so proud of with how Josh transformed from highly successful wrestler to a highly successful coach. He did an incredible job. It’s also been special to watch him grow as a man, a husband and a father.”

Burrell athletic director Brian Ferra confirmed that applications are being accepted until June 30, at which point interviews will begin.

The hope, Ferra said, is to have the board hire a new coach in August.

“Josh’s been so dedicated and wants the best for the program,” Ferra said. “He surrounded himself with good people. Our coaching staff is the best in the area. He was able to work with them to meet the needs of every kid and get the best out of them.”

“We all understand why Josh is doing what he feels he needs to do. He’s not leaving. He’s going to be around the program as a volunteer. He’ll be there. It might be tough for him to not be the one in charge, but knowing him, he wants to do what’s right for the program. We will be able to make it work.”

Shields said he wouldn’t trade these last 11 years for anything.

“It was special to be able to graduate from Burrell, compete collegiately, and then come back and be named the head coach,” he said.

“To be able to coach alongside the people who have had the biggest impact on my life, such as coach Como, coach (Isaac) Greely and coach (Steve) Ansani, it’s been an honor. Those memories I will never forget. The goal when I took over was to make them proud. I didn’t have to build a program from scratch. The program was already in place. My mission was to help maintain it and help it continue to grow.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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