Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gym dedication fitting tribute to Del Val's Hutchins

Don Hutchins has been committed to making sure that his late son, Dan, has not been forgotten since his tragic death over a decade ago. One tour around Delaware Valley Regional High School tells you it's been a successful mission.

Dan Hutchins, an outstanding wrestler and young man, was killed in an automobile accident on Father's Day morning in 2002. For those that knew him, including myself, the news of his passing was tough to comprehend and accept.

On Friday night, Del Val will pay another fitting tribute by dedicating the gymnasium in Dan Hutchins' memory prior to the Skyland Conference match against North Hunterdon. It will informally be renamed, "The Hutch."

"Absolutely," said Dan's father, Don, when asked how thrilled the family was about this tremendous honor. "We never requested or thought about it. It was a board [of education] decision. They contacted us with their idea."

The bronze plaque on the wall in the Del Val fitness room.
Hutchins said that Delaware Valley has received nearly a quarter-million dollars through the family's charitable efforts -- including a golf tournament that's been held the last 10 years. Monies raised have provided a fitness room, which bears his likeness on a bronze plaque, along with numerous scholarships and scoreboards -- and even a volleyball program to the Hunterdon County school over the years.

"It was our way to make sure his memory would live on," Don said. "If you go up to Del Val and walk around ... his name is everywhere."

"They have turned the utmost negative for a family and have really done a lot of good for as many people as they could," said Terriers coach Andy Fitz. "In more than just the area of wrestling. They've done so much to keep his memory alive. This is unprecedented. I can't think of any gym in high school or college named after an athlete. They're going to show a video of his 100th win. It's going to be an emotional night. I can't wait to watch it all unfold."

Fittingly, the presentation will take place before a Del Val-North Hunterdon match, which every year presents an Outstanding Wrestler Award bearing his name to a deserving athlete from each team. Jason Hawk, former North head coach and now an assistant under Tim Flynn, is especially fond of the Hutchins family.

"We always had a pretty good thing going, and some great matches with Del Val," Hawk said. "Nobody ever crossed the line. We competed and when it was over we had a moment of silence for Dan. We focused  on what was really important after ... like family."

"Jason is an assistant now and they're a great group of coaches," Don Hutchins said. "Danny really liked them and respected them."

Phil Hutchins, Dan's younger brother, is an assistant coach on Fitz's staff. You won't find a bigger Del Val supporter than Phil, who was born with cerebral palsy and gets around with the aid of a walker. He is one intense individual, a stark contrast to his younger brother who was quiet and more reserved. Phil was his brother's No. 1 fan, positioning himself matside for all of Dan's matches to root him on.

"Danny was very competitive, but had more of a sensitive side to him," Don said.

Dan Hutchins was set to graduate from Del Val with honors just days before his car struck a tree on Route 627 in Pohatcong Township. He enjoyed his best season on the mats that year, going 31-8 and finishing sixth in the state tournament at 152 pounds. He was a District 17 and Region 5 runner-up, following just behind North Hunterdon star Ricky Frondorf along the way.

A likeness of the rug to be placed at the gym entrance.
He was the first Del Val wrestler to record 100 career wins -- finishing 109-27. I was there the night he reached that special milestone. True to form, Dan Hutchins walked off the mat just as he did the previous 99 wins -- without a display of emotion that would have drawn attention to himself.

"When you think of Del Val wrestling it's very difficult not to think of Dan Hutchins," Hawk said. "He was such a classy kid. The way he carried himself ... it was a travesty when he passed. To name the gym after him is a great thing for the family and Del Val wrestling.

Hutchins, who was set to attend Rutgers University that fall, reached the state semifinals -- falling, 5-2, to Frondorf, who went on to win the first of his two state titles. Frondorf won all nine of their meetings in high school, including five that season.

A lot of people, including myself, felt Hutchins would have had a better shot at state gold that year at 145. Ocean City's Joe Galante, who finished second, had been beaten by Hutchins twice that previous offseason.

"That was his choice," Don said of his son't decision to wrestle at 152. "He said to me, 'There are a lot worse things than following Ricky Frondorf up the podium."

Don, and his wife, Jeanine, are still avid Del Val wrestling supporters.

"We still like to go out and catch matches, and go to regions and states," he said.

It should be quite an evening on Friday -- emotional and inspirational for all to be sure.

"It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it," Hawk said. "The real winner on Friday will be Dan Hutchins."

A quote written in Hutchins' senior yearbook -- turned into a poster that hangs on Phil's bedroom wall -- perhaps best sums up a life that ended all too soon.

"I am going to recite it [on Friday]," Don said. "It basically says, 'At the end I will not fade away.'"

Thanks to the Hutchins family and Del Val, Dan's memory will continue to live on for us and future generations.

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