LA PLATA, Md. – John Pankhurst, a special education teacher at La Plata High School, will be inducted into the Maryland chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame during a Nov. 5 ceremony in Annapolis.
“His induction to the Hall of Fame is not just due to his successes on the mat,” Rich Pauole, director of student activities, athletics and aquatics for CCPS, said. “John is not just a coach but a teacher of the sport and all of the life lessons that comes with it.”
He has been “Coach Pank,” the head wrestling coach at La Plata since 2011. As a head coach, Pankhurst has coached teams that have posted a record of 260-102 and placed in the Top 5 in the state four times. As an assistant wrestling coach at La Plata, Pankhurst’s teams posted a record of 133-10 and won six state team titles. At La Plata, Pankhurst has also coached golf, football and girls lacrosse.
Growing up in northwest Ohio — a rural landscape dotted by a couple of factories, Pankhurst’s hometown was far from colleges and the homes of professional sports teams. “High school athletics were very big in my hometown,” he said. Pankhurst’s father was a high school athlete, participating in several sports and introducing them to his son. “I played flag football, basketball, bowling — and wrestling became an option as well,” Pankhurst said. He tagged along with his dad who was an assistant high school wrestling coach and became intrigued by the sport. “I believe that my father wanted me to have the opportunity to experience different things. Not only to enjoy them and learn from them, but also to determine if something struck me as ‘it,’” Pankhurst said. “And as it turns out that is exactly what happened.”
The family moved to Maryland when Pankhurst was in middle school where his interest in wrestling remained and strengthened. Teaching and coaching at La Plata is a full circle moment for Pankhurst, who graduated as a Warrior in 1995. “Coach Pankhurst was a staple at La Plata High School long before his coaching career began,” Pauole said.
While a student at La Plata, he was a wrestler, completing his high school wrestling career with a record of 107-28-1. Pankhurst placed third and second at the Maryland State Championship with the La Plata team having produced three state finalists and placing runner up in the state contest. Coached by Cliff Nagle, Pankhurst was La Plata’s first three-time state qualifier, two-time
state placer and the school’s first wrestler to win more than 100 matches as a prep student athlete.
After high school, Pankhurst attended Appalachian State University in North Carolina where he placed twice at the Mountaineer Open, a wrestling tournament. Injuries sidelined his wrestling and Pankhurst transferred to The Ohio State University where he earned a degree in psychology. Following graduation, Pankhurst stayed in Ohio and worked at the Ohio School for the Deaf before returning to Maryland and La Plata.
He is working to grow the girls wrestling program at La Plata and encourages students to learn more about wrestling programs at their schools. “Wrestling is the greatest sport there is,” he said. “If you work hard you are rewarded, if you cut corners you come up short, and you have to look in the mirror and know you had the choice to control your destiny,” Pankhurst said. “If [a student is] interested in being different, being better, being confident, transitioning from high school into college, into the military, into the work force or anything for that matter — [they] should probably immerse [themselves] in an opportunity to grow and develop. Wrestling affords everyone that opportunity.”
In 2012, Pankhurst was named the Washingto
on Metropolitan Wrestling Officials Association’s Coach of the Year. In 2020, he was selected as one of 33 coaches in the state named National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches of the Year.
The hall of fame induction is an accomplishment that goes beyond a simple recognition. “I am still trying to wrap my mind around this development. I had never thought of myself as worthy of such an honor,” Pankhurst said. Speaking with others about the recognition, Pankhurst found it honors more than winning records. “I have realized that it isn’t really about accomplishments as much as it’s about the culture, the relationships and the greater purpose of what I have been trying to accomplish that have led me to be recognized.”
The state National Hall of Fame induction ceremony is Sunday, Nov. 5, in Annapolis. To learn more about the hall of fame, visit https://nwhof.org