Assistant coach Doug Pratt is taking over as the head wrestling coach at Shawsheen Tech

After 31 years as an assistant coach, Doug Pratt is taking over as the head wrestling coach at Shawsheen Tech on an interim basis, honoring his good friend Mark Donovan, who passed away in the fall. (photo by JoeBrownphotos.com).

BILLERICA – Shawsheen Tech Athletic Director Al Costabile faced what seemed like an almost impossible task heading into the winter sports season, as he sought to find a new wrestling coach to take over for the legendary Mark Donovan, who had tragically died of cancer back in October the age of 55.

After all, how do you replace not only a legendary coach, but also one who had been lost to such tragic circumstances, leaving a grieving group of wrestlers behind? In almost any other circumstance, the task may have truly been impossible. But not at Shawsheen Tech, and certainly not in the wrestling room, where the obvious replacement was right in front of Costabile in the person of Donovan’s long time assistant coach, Doug Pratt.

Pratt had been alongside Donovan for 31 of Donovan’s 36 seasons for the Rams, helping him build one of the greatest wrestling programs in the state of Massachusetts, compiling nearly 600 wins and 28 Commonwealth Athletic Conference championships. If anybody knew and loved the Shawsheen Wrestling program as much as Donovan, it was certainly Pratt.

The only issue of course, was convincing Pratt to take the job. After all, the 1987 graduate of Shawsheen Tech had already agreed to take over as the Rams junior varsity basketball coach for the upcoming season, not to mention his role as the football team’s offensive coordinator.

Pratt, ever loyal to Shawsheen, and of course ever loyal to Donovan, readily agreed to do whatever it takes to help the wrestling program, and he will take over as the Rams head coach this season, hoping to carry on the great winning tradition that Donovan built. Costabile couldn’t be more pleased to have Pratt in charge.

“Doug has been by coach Dunnie’s side for over 30 years and he is the perfect choice to step into that role,” Costabile said. “It is a very unique situation, and we are all very, very sad with how things are. But Doug will be perfect for this, because he is going to step in and give us the stability we need. Not only that, but he is a very experienced and knowledgeable coach.”

While he was looking forward to becoming part of the Rams basketball coaching staff, Pratt knew that the reality was, the wrestling sidelines are where he belongs, at least for this season, while the team goes through what promises to be a very emotional season.

Thankfully, Shawsheen coaching staff is all pitching in to keep the basketball program running seamlessly as well. Joe Gore will remain as head coach of the varsity, while Bob Hodnett will move from his role as freshman coach to JV as well as a varsity assistant, and former varsity head coach Greg Bendel will return to the sidelines to coach the Rams freshman squad.

“That’s the reason why I did it. I had gone over to basketball with Joe, but when Al came to me and asked how we should handle it, we all agreed that the best thing would be for me to stay with wrestling, rather than bring in a new guy right away,” Pratt said. “We will revisit it after this year, but we felt like it was really important to have that bridge year.”

While Pratt is technically providing a bridge between Donovan and the next coach of the Rams, he is no interim coach, having build a long and illustrious career of his own, even being selected to the Massachusetts Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018, one of the very few assistant coaches ever selected for such an honor.

Donovan, who nominated Pratt for his selection back in 2018, knew how important his friend and assistant was to his success as a head coach.

“Doug is as much of a head coach as I am,” Donovan said at the time of his selection. “I have said before that I am only as good as my coaching staff and I have a great staff. Doug is the heart of this program. The time and dedication he puts into this program is second to none. He is what this program is all about. He is a great coach and a great friend, and I am glad the Hall of Fame got to see what I see.”

For his part, Pratt will argue with anyone who tries to put him on Donovan’s level in terms of building the program, deferring credit for the team’s success to his long time mentor.

“It’s beyond measure what Mark has done for this program. He was the guy, and now we want to keep it going for him,” Pratt said. “We were almost always on the same page. Mark knew to give a hug if he needed a hug, and be demanding if he needed to be demanding. This was his program. He built it.”

Pratt can defer all he wants, but the fact is, he brings much of the same coaching philosophy and many of the same skills as Donovan to the wrestling room, and Costabile feels like he will be able to use those skills to make him just as successful in the head coaching role as he was as an assistant.

“Doug has a very similar mindset as Mark, which will make things more comfortable for the kids,” Costabile. “It will not be a culture shock for them. He brings a lot of passion and a lot of knowledge of the sport, so we are very fortunate that he can pick up where Mark left off.”

Pratt also feels very fortunate to have three very capable assistant coaches alongside him for his first year as head coach, with former Minuteman head coach Brian Tildsley and former Melrose assistant coach Nick Gamble, along with fellow veteran wrestling coaches Mike Gianchi and Rob McIsaac, all helping out in the room.

“I am very fortunate to have them with me, because they bring a ton of experience and knowledge,” Pratt said. “We want to continue doing things how we do them, but at the same time, it is important to bring in a lot of new staff to help build the program to be even better than what it is.”

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