STAMFORD — Some people view retirement as a chance to relax.
Others view it as an opportunity to take on the challenge of playing golf in the Northeast nine months out of the year.
It can be a time for travel or new hobbies or new experiences.
Then, there are people like Mike Cigala.
In his youth, Cigala was a two-time gold medal winning wrestler at the CUNY-NYC college championships. He also earned a berth on the USA/Canadian wrestling team that competed at the Soviet Union friendship games.
Cigala went on to be the wrestling coach at the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. He followed that with a long tenure at New York City perennial wrestling powerhouse Stuyvesant High School.
He became a believer in the teaching and coaching methods of 1972 Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable. In his 21 years at Iowa University, Gable was 355-21-5 with 15 NCAA Division I titles.
Upon his recent retirement from teaching and coaching at Stuyvesant HS, Cigala moved to Stamford.
One day he saw an ad about the Westhill High School wrestling coaching position. Tom Pereira had given up the job after 12 years to focus on being Dean of Students at Westhill.
“I was looking to be a substitute teacher at one of the high schools in Stamford,” Cigala recounted. “Then I showed my wife the ad for a wrestling coach. She said ‘If you want it and love it then go for it.’ ”
After getting the nod from Westhill athletic director Dick Cerone, suddenly Mike Cigala wasn’t retired anymore.
And the 2019-20 Viking wrestlers have been the beneficiaries. Westhill is 1-1 after last Wednesday’s 36-34 loss at Greenwich.
“It’s been amazing. I love these kids,” Cigala said. “I originally thought I’d relax when I moved to Stamford. But I love coaching and teaching. We will shoot for excellence. Success takes a village. I’m happy to be here at Westhill.”
Cigala, who has Barry Bear and Jim Murphy as assistant coaches, is implementing a number of Dan Gable’s core precepts.
“Besides the Merchant Marine Academy and Stuyvesant HS, I’ve coached in Oklahoma and Missouri,” Cigala said. “We will be conditioning 1 1/2 hours a day. Dan Gable’s ethos is ‘Conditioning is everything.’ It’s about getting tougher. It’s hard work. But the kids will improve. These kids are becoming better people as well as better wrestlers. It’s not just sport. It’s life skills too.”
Cigala has hit the ground running. Since Barry Bear had a long tenure coaching at Stamford Junior Wrestling, Cigala is building relationships there. He wants to work with the middle schools in Stamford to expand wrestling opportunities and create a more plentiful feeder system.
Although he has just started, Cigala knows where he wants the Vikings program to finish.
“Our model is Danbury Wrestling (32 FCIAC titles since 1986-87; 19 State Open crowns since 1997),” Cigala said. “That’s the goal.”