It's a sad day in the wrestling world and for Kittatinny Regional High School, as Open Mike has learned of the passing of longtime Kittatinny assistant wrestling coach Linn Crawn.
Crawn, a successful wrestler at Newton High School and William Penn University (Iowa), died Thursday morning. Longtime Kittatinny head coach John Gill and Newton head coach Eric Bollette, a former Kittatinny wrestler and friend of Crawn's, confirmed that Crawn died Thursday morning on a his way to a doctor's appointment.
"It's hard. He was like my right arm," said Gill, who had been with Crawn since taking over the Kittatinny post for the 1980-81 season (32 years). "He was the brains behind the operation. It's a said day for the Cougars."
Bollette, who is vacationing in Maine, said he received the news in a phone call from Gill. Former Kittatinny assistant coach Nick DeGennaro said it's hard to believe Crawn is gone.
"I wrestled for John and Linn, and coached with them for 12 years," DeGennaro said. "There was probably no one in this sport that knew more than Linn. We've lost a big part of Sussex County wrestling. He's made such an impact on so many kids for so many years."
Crawn, a four-year member of the Newton High School wrestling program, was a two-time district champion and a region runner-up at heavyweight in 1969. His brothers, Doug, Gary and Larry also wrestled for the Braves. Doug Crawn was a state champion in 1971.
In college, Linn Crawn was a NAIA national champion at heavyweight and was an all-conference football player at William Penn. He was a four-year letterwinner in both sports and played on a conference championship football team. He was inducted into the Statesmen Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002, and also is a member of the Sussex County Hall of Fame.
Crawn had been in poor health for a number of years, suffering from diabetes. Gill said that Crawn died just moments after getting into his brother Doug's car for a doctor's visit. The official cause of death is not yet known.
Gill, who was in New York visiting family at the time, said he was stunned by the news.
"He had been hospitalized four times since the season ended [in March]," Gill said. "I don't know how I would get 36 kids focused if [Crawn's death] had happened during the season. I have a heavy heart."
Crawn, a friend to many who knew him, was known as a master strategist and lineup maker. In their many years together, Gill estimates there were maybe "two or three times" where he overruled Crawn on lineup maneuvers.
"He was excellent at doing matchups," Gill said. "He would tell you where to move kids. He was a big part of my success. He was Kittatinny wrestling. We were always together."
When Gill took the job out fresh out of the University of Scranton in 1980, he was in need of an assistant. Luckily for him, Crawn's sister, Linda, was a teacher with Gill at Kittatinny and suggested he call Crawn. The rest is Kittatinny wrestling history.
"There was really nobody in the building, so I called him up out of the blue. He came over and met with me and the athletic director at the time," Gill recalled. "I gave him the job and we were together for 32 years."
Gill said that funeral services for Crawn are still pending. He also said that Kittatinny will honor Crawn at the start of the wrestling season in December.
"We'll have to do something before the first home match or the Kittatinny tournament," said Gill, who is 465-146-5 in his coaching career. "It will be more than a moment of silence."
On a personal note, I knew Linn for many years covering this sport and he was a one-of-a-kind, larger-than-life character. I will certainly miss seeing and talking with him during the wrestling seasons. You can't think of Kittatinny wrestling without thinking of Gill and Crawn -- hand in hand they went together. And together they won 17 sectional and eight group championships.
My deepest sympathies to Crawn's family and friends. Sussex County lost a great one.