John Scanlan can thank Julie D’Agostino for introducing him to wrestling, a sport that Scanlan parlayed into state-caliber greatness at Pearl River in the late 1960s and later a national junior college crown.
As a sixth grader at the William Street School, Scanlan had to stay after and was spotted by D’Agostino, the late wrestling coach and esteemed Pirate mentor, who promptly “pulled me into the [wrestling] room” and thereby launched a blue-ribbon athletic career. “Dag was beyond a coach for me,” says Scanlan, whose father died in a car accident when John was 7. “He filled the void of my missing dad.” Scanlan and his four siblings were raised by their mom, Irene Volz
As a seventh and eighth grader, Scanlan would take the bus trips to scrimmages with the high school team and gain some experience against more seasoned opponents. “They threw me to the wolves” is how Scanlan puts it. Looks like the strategy worked. Scanlan learned rapidly and won the County eighth-grade title at 89 pounds, coached at that level by Hayes Yorks.
Standing just 5-foot-3 at the outset of his high school career, Scanlan reached the elite level as a ninth grader, winning the Rockland County and Section 9 championships, earning Most Outstanding Wrestler honors in the county tournament, and placing fourth in the New York State meet at 106 pounds.
Over the next three years, 1967-69, Scanlan continued his long-playing record of success. He was Rockland County and Section 9 champion all four years, a two-time Most Outstanding Wrestler in the Section tournament, and added fourth- and second-place State meet finishes his junior and senior years at 123 pounds. Outside of his six losses over four years in the State tournament, Scanlan tasted defeat only twice otherwise – in a Christmas tournament in Passaic County his freshman year, and in a dual meet his sophomore year to Ed Kojakei of Bergenfield, a three-time New Jersey state champ.
“John was a special one,” says Tom Canty, Scanlan’s varsity coach as a freshman and sophomore. “He was a very tough kid. And he was fun to watch, even warming up. It was like watching a drag racer revving up the car engine and getting ready to take off. Ten or 15 minutes before he’d be pacing around, shaking out. By the time the match came, he was really ready to go. The good ones make it look easy.”
Led by Scanlan and a talented supporting cast, Pearl River won the Rockland County championship all four years he wrestled for the Pirates, with D’Agostino replacing Canty as head coach from Scanlan’s junior year forward. Pearl River won the first three titles outright and shared the ’69 crown with Suffern. The 1967 team also claimed the Section 9 title. (Scanlan was inducted into the inaugural Pearl River High School Hall of Fame 10 years ago.)
After graduating from Pearl River, Scanlan – by then a 5-foot-6 dynamo – took his marquee wrestling act to Orange County Community College and promptly became a smash hit on the national level. At Orange County CC, he merely went undefeated in 30 matches his freshman year and captured the National Junior College Athletic Association championship at 126 pounds, pinning Dave Turner of Northern Oklahoma in 3:10 in the finals to earn Most Outstanding Wrestler honors for the entire tournament.
For all intents and purposes, that was the end of Scanlan’s wrestling career. He did come back his sophomore year and started the season with a tournament title and MVP performance in Philadelphia. But soon thereafter he sustained a knee injury, grew weary of the constant pressure to maintain weight at 123 to 128 pounds (which he had held for three years), and decided to leave his shoes on the mat for good.
Scanlan opted to enter the hospitality business after working as a bartender in college. He approached his professional career with the same zest he demonstrated as a grappler. “The high energy I had in wrestling, I still have today,” says Scanlan, who is 55. He is currently president and CEO of Hidden Valley Resorts, a 2,000-acre ski and recreation resort in the western Pennsylvania town of Somerset. He also owns a real estate development company called Alchemy.
Scanlan and his wife of 20 years, Karen, have four children: Shannon, 30 (from John’s first marriage); Sean, 13; Alexandria, 12; and a 2-year-old adopted from China named Veronica, whose birth name is Ziyan. Scanlan also has a granddaughter, 7-year-old Kaylee.