His school’s first — and to this day only — state champion in wrestling.
A two-time WPIAL and section winner with 88 career victories, including 65 by fall, who was never taken down as a junior or senior until he got to what is now the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic (then Dapper Dan), which — by the way — he also won by pin over a two-time state champion from West Virginia.
And soon to be a member of a Hall of Fame.
Sound like someone who said that, as a junior at Ligonier Valley High School, he was “intimidated” by the surroundings?
It was a life lesson that John Chendy now passes on to anyone who will listen.
But it paid off in the end.
And after all that, it will culminate in his induction into the District 6 Coaches Hall of Fame on Saturday at Altoona Area High School.
“I am honored to have this opportunity,” expressed Chendy, a 1978 Ligonier Valley graduate who used his experience the year before that to become a PIAA Class AA champion as a senior at 167 pounds after pinning every section and WPIAL opponent, and then two of the four in the state tourney. “I’m happy that I’m still here.
“You just don’t think about someday being in a Hall of Fame. Growing up, you never think of those type of things.”
Get this. Chendy never won a match until his final — as in last — year of Junior Olympics.
After that, he rarely lost...at least once he got into junior high. His WPIAL (District 7) and section titles came in 1977 and ’78, and that doesn’t even count the one in 1975 — when freshmen were not eligible to compete at the varsity level — and the runner-up finish in ’76.
But it’s one of his losses — and there were only nine of those during his three years at Ligonier Valley — that, as he put it, served as “motivation.” That was the one in the state tournament as a junior when he went in with a 28-0 record following the second of his two district championships, and wound up not even placing in the PIAA.
“Once I got to be a sophomore in high school, I made the mistake of just concentrating on just trying to become a WPIAL champion,” Chendy allowed. “Ligonier Valley never had one.
“I wanted to be a WPIAL champion in the worst possible way. And I was able to do that, first as a junior.
“Then, once I got to the PIAA tournament that next week, that’s when I first gave winning a state title a thought. But it was too late.
“I didn’t consider it up to that point. And that was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
Simply put, Chendy said he was taken aback by it all. At that point, Chendy said — and he isn’t afraid to admit it now — that he “froze.”
“Once I got to the state tournament and was in that atmosphere with the size of the venue and with all of those people and all of those wrestling mats in one place, I was intimidated,” Chendy permitted. “I froze.
“After that, I absolutely told myself that there was no reason why I couldn’t win it. Then, I just basically set my mind to winning the state tournament my senior year.
“That was motivation for me,” he said of the way his junior season ended, “and I also wanted to wrestle in the classic. Those dreams all came true.
“What I do get a kick out of is, every time I go to the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic or state tournament and I open up the program, my name is still listed there. Never in my wildest dreams, when I was younger and in Junior Olympics and junior high school, did I think I would ever be a WPIAL champion, let alone a state champion.
“That doesn’t happen to people in my area. It just doesn’t.”
But what Chendy went through as a junior sticks with him to this day. And he stresses to athletes and parents alike to prepare ahead of time, regardless of the sport.
“What I tell a lot of parents now is, if they want to help their kid in those situations, take them to those type of tournaments years before they can even participate in a sport. Then, they’re much more comfortable being in a place of that magnitude once they get there,” Chendy reasoned.
“Take the time to expose their son or daughter to that. When it comes time for their kid to compete at that level, they’ll be somewhat used to it and won’t have to go through what I did. If you don’t do that, it’s going to make it that much more difficult on them.
“When you think about it, it really doesn’t matter. You can only wrestle on one mat at a time.
“But I just wasn’t able to open up and, just like that, it was over. I made up my mind right then and there that it wasn’t going to happen to me again.”
And Chendy will be the first to say that he couldn’t have done it without the assistance of a lot of people. And that begins with Chendy’s immediate family — his late father Charles and sister Gennine, mother Margaret and sister Mary Beth, all of whom he says were his biggest fans.
“I have to thank my mom and dad and my two sisters. No matter where I was wrestling, they were there,” Chendy recalled.
“If there was someplace I wanted to be, they (parents) made it a point that — if I needed a ride or money to go somewhere for a clinic or there was a tournament on the east coast — there was never a question.
“To this day, my mom still calls me the Bagman. When I went to school, I left with a bag and came home with a bag of wrestling clothes, and they would have to be washed everyday.
“When you’re in that particular sport, there is no time off. For me, it was 12 months out of the year.”
But it doesn’t end there.
For one, there was also Chad Menzie.
“We were workout partners,” Chendy noted. “He was a big reason why I was able to become as good as I was.
“And If there was a time when my father couldn’t take us to wherever we had to be, then his dad did. If there was a tournament somewhere, we always had a ride there, and we were both able to do very well.”
Of course, there where his coaches along the way. First was Scott Hines in junior high and then the late Al Ludwig — whose brother Rich was a former head coach at Derry Area — with the varsity.
“One started it and the other finished it,” is how Chendy put it.
“I always considered him as my second dad,” Chendy said, referring to Al Ludwig. “Nobody in the Ligonier Valley was more loved than he was.”
There were the assistant coaches, as well. His sophomore and junior years, it was George Norris, and, in particular, Dick Cross during his state championship season.
“He (Cross) made some suggestions my senior year about things he felt I could do better and showed me how to do them,” Chendy pointed out. “And I have to mention all of the parents and my teammates and workout partners.
“I remember different people would take the time to come watch our matches as a team and then came up to me to shake my hand or give me a pat on the back or give me a kind word,” he continued. “They might not know it, but there are so many people who had a hand in helping me to accomplish what I did.
“I may have been the one who put in the hard work and received the medals. But I knew then — and I know better now — that there are so many people who helped me along the way.”
One more person who might not be thought about was the late Dr. Ronald Koval. He was Chendy’s chiropractor.
“He always had the time for me, regardless of the time of day,” Chendy remarked. “I felt very lucky to have him in my life. He was always able to help me.
“It was a lot of hard work. But I made up my mind in seventh grade that if I wanted to go to college — if — I wanted to go for free.
“I just didn’t know I would do it through wrestling. I didn’t know what that was called at the time, but it was a scholarship.”
Chendy originally signed with the University of Nebraska and still has his letter of intent framed and hanging on a wall. However, he never attended Nebraska, instead transferring to Pitt, where he wrestled for all four years — despite injuries and surgeries — to be closer to home after his father first became ill.
“It seems like yesterday that I was on a mat somewhere in high school or college,” added Chendy, who’s now 59.
“I won that state tournament 42 years ago. Is that crazy or what?
“I can’t believe that much time as gone by. It goes by in a blink. I remember like it was yesterday.”
Chendy received a phone call about one year ago that he was being considered for the District 6 Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His presenter will be Tom Harbert, the former head coach at Greater Latrobe whom Chendy served as an assistant under from the early 1980s to 1990.
These days, Chendy serves on the board for the Al Ludwig Memorial Fund that was established last year as a non-profit organization. The hope is to award a yearly scholarship to a Ligonier Valley student, and anyone wishing to make a tax-deductible contribution or serve as a volunteer to celebrate Ludwig’s life is asked to phone 1-443-610-1109 or visit the website (almemorialfund.com).
Chendy, who now resides in Jeannette, is also self-employed as owner of Ligonier Valley Windows, Doors & More, which has been in business since 1985 and services all of western Pennsylvania.