The Harford County wrestling community lost another gem Saturday with the passing of longtime coach, teacher and friend Mark Jacovitte.
Jacovitte, 68, died of cancer after a battle he had come to peace with.
“I’m sure it saddened the local wrestling community,” legendary Aberdeen coach Dick Slutzky said by phone from Nova Scotia. Slutzky, the Harford County Council president, said he’s known Jacovitte since 1972-73.
“It was a different kind of relationship. When he needed to have a new roof put on his house, I went over and helped and when I needed to move, he came over and helped me,” Slutzky said. “There was more than wrestling, we were friends, we did a lot of things together.”
Over the years the two traveled to National Wrestling Championships together, flying out to Iowa or driving to Jersey together for tournaments.
“The constant between coaches and the competition, Mark and I, it was the kind of thing where it would be one match or a one bout match and it was tight and when it was all over, he and I could go out and have a beer together,” Slutzky said.
Bel Air wrestling coach Craig Reddish never had Jacovitte as a coach, but he was much more.
“For me though, he was my middle school phys ed teacher and as a rec wrestler, me and one of my other rec teammates would walk over and practice with the high school team every day,” Reddish said. “So for me, it was like Jacovitte was the world, he was like a God.”
Jacovitte, who spent 50 years around the sport of wrestling, was a head coach for short time. He led the Bobcats from 1974 to 1982.
“He was my mentor, so when I got into wrestling I was like 8 or 9 and he was the head varsity coach at Bel Air at that time, the late ‘70s,” Reddish said. Older brother and wrestler Brian and sister Debbie were part of the Bobcats mat program under Jacovitte.
“Jacovitte had his hands on everything, he was involved with the parks and rec, he did intramural wrestling at the middle school,” Reddish recalled. “He’s kind of the guy that I try to make my teams like those Bel Air teams of the past, try to make them family-oriented.”
Jacovitte was special to the entire Reddish family.
“I’m going into my 26th season at Bel Air and I have the most wins and all that kind of stuff and I’ve had my own successes, but in the Reddish household, I’m easily, without a debate, the number two coach at Bel Air High School in its history,” Reddish says. “Mark Jacovitte is the guy, from my parents, to my brother and sister, to myself.”
Jacovitte was the coach who loved his teams and the people under him. He would go to bat for them and be the coach that you would run through a brick wall for.
“Every time he saw me he would hug me and kiss my cheek and say good things, but he was also somebody that would tell me how he was feeling and not to hurt my feelings, he would tell you the truth,” Reddish said.
Jacovitte’s teaching career took a break as he turned to the public sector for carpentry and a construction. He eventually came back to teaching, taking a shop job at Harford Tech, where he became an assistant coach to the late Gary Siler during the Cobras prominent run.
Jacovitte owned and operated Jacovitte Contracting from 1982 until he died and was a member of the Mid Atlantic Carpenters Union, where he was an instructor.
Jacovitte also served in the National Guard from 1969 to 1975, after graduating from Bel Air in 1967. He graduated from Harford Community College in 1970 and took classes at Towson State and Morgan State universities.
“Mark Jacovitte was a fixture of Harford County high school sports. His wit and unique way of looking at the world was always funny and refreshing,” Keith Watson said. “His personality drew me and many others into a new sport (to us) called Wresting, because he was so much fun to be around.”
Watson says Jacovitte used to tell the story of Watson’s final match as a Bel Air wrestler.
“He used to tell everyone about my last high school match versus Edgewood's Bruce Riley, an experienced wrestler that had me by 70 pounds,” Watson said. “He headlocked me, tore my meniscus doing so and had me on my back 10 seconds into the first period. Mark had just showed me how to reverse that situation, so I did the high leg in a back arch to put Bruce on his back. I'm losing 5-2 halfway through the first period, but ended up with a 5-5 tie (no OT back then). Me fighting off my back saved the dual for Bel Air, but I was done for the year, my one and only year wrestling, ended with a 3-10 record and needing surgery.”
Watson also credits Jacovitte for his success.
“When I was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame-Maryland Chapter, I had to have him there,” Watson said. “I gave him credit for being the reason that I coach and despite having been around Olympic and college coaches and having stolen something from all of them, I actually tried to be like Mark the most. His ability to motivate and the way he interacted with kids made a brutal, grueling sport, fun.”
Most recently Jacovitte was honored at the Maryland State Wrestling Tournament with a Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award for his 50 years of service to the sport.