Bill Mitchell loved to coach.

Whether it was high school or club, provincial or national, even pressed into service in other sports than his bread-and-butter wrestling, Bill put everything into coaching. And he was so much more than just a coach: father figure, mentor, counsellor—whatever his athletes needed. In many cases, he changed lives.

Like the time he discovered one of his Centennial Secondary wrestlers crying in a stairwell. Learning the young man was homeless and living out of his car, with no second thoughts Bill brought him home to live in the Mitchell family basement for six weeks until social services could help. The young man continued his schooling, continued wrestling, and later became a chiropractor. That’s what an extraordinary coach will do for their athletes. And Bill was certainly that, considered today one of Canada’s greatest wrestling coaches.

Born in London, England, young Bill rode out the Blitz of World War II in Barnsley playing soccer and rugby. After the war his family moved to Windsor, Ontario, where he took up football, wrestling, and track & field, later excelling at Western University. He played nine seasons in the CFL with Toronto, Edmonton, and BC as a lineman and kicked field goals to boot, including a then-world record 58-yarder in 1964.

When Bill was traded to BC in 1966, he took an offseason job teaching at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary. He began coaching there in 1969 and quickly turned the school into a certified wrestling factory and perennial powerhouse. At one point, Centennial had 35 provincial title banners hanging in their gym—22 of these were teams coached by Bill. He remained a Centennial fixture until retiring in 1994.

“He always went back to coaching his athletes at Centennial, knowing that his work with those students had the most impact,” said Bill’s daughter Cathie. “He loved them and they loved him. He made them better men and they made him better.”

Much of his success was based on the grassroots feeder program he built, directing the best young wrestlers to Centennial and he in turn shuttled the best to SFU, the BC provincial team, and Canadian national team. To grow the sport, he taught new wrestling coaches how to coach and helped cultivate other high school programs. He founded the BC-Japan Cultural Exchange Program allowing hundreds of BC and Japanese wrestlers to visit both countries.

Along the way, he served both the BC Amateur Wrestling Association and Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association as a director and president. In 1987, he received the prestigious Air Canada Sports Executive of the Year Award.

Through it all, Bill remained doing what he loved most—coaching. He coached thousands of athletes over his 25-year career including some of Canada’s greatest wrestlers like Chris Wilson, Chris Rinke, and John ‘Earthquake’ Tenta. It took him to events around the world: the 1975 world junior wrestling championships in Bulgaria, the 1979 CAC Tour to the Soviet Union, the 1983 Pan American Games in Venezuela, the 1985 and 1986 world wrestling championships in Hungary, the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea where he managed Canada’s Olympic wrestling team.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

To read more on the career of Bill Mitchell, please see the August 2020 Curator’s Corner article here: