Anyone who has ever been around the Pearl River wrestling program knows the look.
It’s that stare from coach Grier Yorks that can intimidate the best of them and render words meaningless. In the heat of competition, his intensity is plain to see.
But like many effective coaches, Yorks’ hardened exterior often crumbles in favor of a playful and humorous side, and that’s what endears him to his wrestlers.
“I’ve had a lot of good memories with Yorks, like dancing in the wrestling room during workouts on ‘Disco Fridays’ and sitting in uninvited on his physics class until he kicked us out,” Pearl River sophomore Jack Chesman said. “Yorks is the kind of guy anybody can easily be friends with. I’ll miss being able to annoy him and joke around with him most of all.”
Described as “an old-school coach learning new-school ways” by longtime assistant Billy Donnelly, Yorks’ 24-year run as the Pirates’ head coach will come to an end after the New York State Championships next weekend.
Like so many who have devoted their lives to the demanding sport of wrestling, there is an unmistakable toughness associated with Yorks. It can be traced back to his father, Hayes Grier Yorks Sr., who sat in the Pearl River corner as a coach many years before his son did.
“He was probably a little tougher on me than some of the other kids, but never overbearing, and he always made it my decision, whatever I wanted to do,” Yorks said of his father. “He even told me not to go into teaching, but I liked what he was doing too much. And it was enjoyable to coach with him for a few years.”
After wrestling for his father and the late Julius D’Agostino at Pearl River, Yorks went onto compete for SUNY Cortland before coming back to his hometown to teach and coach in 1984. He coached at the JV and modified levels before ascending to the varsity in 1993.
As a lifelong Pirate, his enthusiasm for the program was contagious.
“I think the biggest thing was, more than teaching wrestling, he taught us about the history and culture at Pearl River,” said Tappan Zee coach Peter Dene, who wrestled for Yorks at Pearl River and graduated in 1998. “He expected everybody to uphold that high standard of wrestling and class. Being a Pirate wrestler was really, really important to him.”
Under Yorks’ leadership, Pearl River had what he called “ups and downs over the years.” In many respects, the last five have been his most successful.
The Pirates were Division 2 sectional champions last season and will send three individual champs to Albany to this year.
“You have to get good runs of good kids coming out,” Yorks said. “I’m coaching the same way I coached when I had teams that weren’t successful — I just have better kids. It’s kind of luck of the draw. You have to do a lot of work in the kids’ program.”
With 21 sophomores on the current roster and a strong seventh grade class, the program should be in good shape for years to come. And those who came before remain grateful.
“When I graduated, I thanked him for being like a third parent to me. And he still is,” Dene said. “He’s one of the biggest reasons that I’m a teacher and a coach. I can’t give a bigger compliment than that. He affected my life tremendously.”
Yorks will retire from coaching and teaching at the end of the school year, but he plans to remain around the program next season to ease the transition. After that, he hopes to relocate to South Carolina.
Wherever he ends up, he knows he’ll take the lessons of the sport that shaped him along for the ride.
“Anybody that wrestles for a good period of time, you pick up things that help you for your whole life,” Yorks said. “Dan Gable said it the best. ‘Once you wrestle, everything else in life is easy.’ It’s what gets me up for work every morning. I’ve never had a sick day at Pearl River. It’s not to say I wasn’t sick, but I’ve had to do things for wrestling that make getting up when you’re sick no big deal. I don’t want to miss a day and cheat my kids.”