Mustangs legend steps away from the mat

Western News file photo

Ray Takahashi, long-time leader of the Western Mustangs wrestling, has retired after 32 years at the helm of the program. While he admits there is still much to learn, he wants to program to move forward under the reins of long-time assistant coach and former Mustang wrestler Scott Proctor.

Ray Takahashi isn’t walking away from the sport completely.

“Coaching is challenging; it takes up a lot of time,” said the long-time leader of the Western Mustangs wrestling program, who retired last month after 32 years on the mat. “I won’t be going cold turkey though – part of that is for a little selfish reason.”

Takahashi’s son, Steven, a former Mustangs wrestler, recently grabbed a gold medal at the Canada Cup in Guelph, his second in as many days. He also won the men’s 61 kg division at the World Trials to earn a spot at the senior World Championships, to be held late August in Paris, France.

“Steven is still competing. So I’m going to have a lot of interest in his development towards 2020 in Tokyo” he said of the upcoming Olympic Games.

It would be a like father, like son moment as Takahashi himself is a three-time Olympic wrestling team member. Add to that titles at the Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games, multi-time Canadian Champion at both the junior and senior levels, twice being named Canadian Wrestler of the Year (1978 and 1984), and an induction into the Wrestling Canada Hall of Fame, and you wouldn’t suspect Takahashi’s childhood was all about judo, not wrestling.

“That was our family business – the judo school. I was brought up with it. The whole family is involved,” said Takahashi, whose older brother introduced him to wrestling to help with his judo. “There is a lot of crossover on techniques with the two sports. But my focus was still on judo.”

It wasn’t until high school where Takahashi began exceling in tournaments. Things “fell into place real fast.” He made the Canadian National team at 17.

“You tend to go where you have more success. So I started branching off and focusing more on wrestling,” Takahashi said. He came to Western in the late-1970s because its strong wrestling program – he quickly made the program stronger.

Undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the history of wrestling and athletics at Western, Takahashi dominated the university wrestling circuit, winning four Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU) championships in his four years as a Mustang. In 1982, he was named the winner of the Dr. Claude Brown Memorial Trophy, alongside fellow Mustang legend and current head football coach Greg Marshall, as the male student-athlete who has made the greatest contribution to intercollegiate athletics at Western.

Following graduation, Takahashi took a couple years off for his Olympic training. He returned to Western in 1985 to pursue a master’s degree in coaching. When the opportunity arose to take over the reins of the Mustangs wrestling program, he became a part-time student and jumped at the chance.

In addition to building the men’s program into one of the top teams in the country, he also established the Mustangs women’s team in 1996-97. In his years at the helm, he led the purple and white to five Ontario University Athletics (OUA) men’s championships and two OUA women’s championships, along with a CIAU men’s championship in 1990. He’s been recognized for his coaching success as a 10-time OUA Coach of the Year and the 1990 CIAU Coach of the Year award.

Western News file photoFormer Mustangs wrestling coach Ray Takahashi is a three-time Olympic wrestling team member. Add to that titles at the Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games, multi-time Canadian Champion at both the junior and senior levels, twice being named Canadian Wrestler of the Year (1978 and 1984), and an induction into the Wrestling Canada Hall of Fame, and you wouldn’t suspect Takahashi’s childhood was all about judo, not wrestling.

Wanting to see the Western wrestling program move forward, Takahashi is encouraged to know Scott Proctor, a former Mustang wrestler and long-time assistant coach, will follow him to the mat.

“Scott knows the program well, and he will lead the program with a full and easy transition,” Takahashi said. “Scott is capable, reliable, hard-working and likely the most underrated coach in U Sports. I am happy he will have the opportunity to lead Western Wrestling.”

A three-year captain of the Mustangs, Proctor is a two-time CIAU championships medalist. Upon graduation, Proctor was recognized for his athletic accomplishments with a Purple Blanket, presented to student-athletes that are judged to have made an outstanding contribution to Western Athletics.

“I’m excited for this opportunity and honoured to have the chance to be a head coach at Western,” Proctor said. “I’ve had the opportunity to be an assistant coach alongside Ray for the last 10-plus years and have learned a tremendous amount under his mentorship. I will work hard to build on the strong foundation Ray has established.”

Although Takahashi has since stepped down from his coaching role, he’ll still be close by as he continues to serve as a lecturer in the School of Kinesiology, as well as a volunteer assistant coach with the Mustangs.

“I have been fortunate to represent wrestling for the past 32 years. I consider myself lucky to have coached so many student-athletes who strive for excellence” Takahashi said.

“In coaching, there are a lot of great things you get to experience – the excitement, the passion, when you see wrestlers wanting to put themselves out there, when you see people at their highest level after a huge win and then at their lowest after a defeat,” he said. “That’s something not too many people get to experience. Being in that environment has been great.”