Former Lock Haven coach Poff still making great impact

Updated: January 26, 2023

Photo: Former Lock Haven wrestling coach Carl Poff still works with young wrestlers at his TNT Wrestling Camps in Kutztown, Pa. (TNT Wrestling Camp photo)

By John Klessinger

Once in a while, you meet someone who inspires you to be better. A particular person who has a disposition about themself that has a unique way to positively affect others. Although I didn’t wrestle for Carl Poff, I have had the opportunity to get to know him over the past couple of years. After spending a short time with him, you will see why he was a successful coach at Lock Haven University. 

A native of Newton, Pa., Poff graduated from Council Rock High School in 1974. He then wrestled for Bloomsburg University, where he was a three-time NCAA qualifier. He followed up his competitive career with assistant coaching stints at the University of North Carolina and Bloomsburg and helped guide both teams to top-five NCAA finishes. He coached NCAA champion C.D. Mock and three-time champion Ricky Bonomo. Coach Poff was the National Assistant Coach of the Year at Bloomsburg.

It was at Lock Haven where Poff cemented his legacy. Poff was the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Coach of the Year six times and twice the Eastern Wrestling League’s Coach of the Year. As the head coach at Loch Haven for 12 years, Poff coached 80 NCAA qualifiers, 14 Division I All-Americans, and two-time NCAA champion Cary Kolat. In 1997, Poff’s “Bald Eagles” placed fifth at the NCAA Championships with five All-Americans; the highest NCAA finish in the program’s history. 

Poff has an impressive resume. Of course, every coach has dreams and aspirations of having the success he had. But, from what I have seen, there is much more to Coach Poff than wrestling credentials. I would find that out almost by coincidence. 

With COVID shutting down college campuses, wrestling camps became sparse and I was looking for a camp for the high school team I coach. I reached out to multiple camps. I found day camps but no overnight camps. With losing our season in 2020-21, I wanted an experience to rebuild rapport with the kids returning. I nearly surrendered my search when a friend and fellow coach told me he found an overnight camp in Kutztown, Pa.: The Carl Poff TNT Wrestling Camp. 

I emailed the camp immediately to inquire about openings. I knew Coach Poff. As a matter of fact, nearly 30 years prior, I thought I was going to wrestle at Lock Haven. I enrolled, attended the new student orientation and transferred to Wilkes University before attending a class. During that summer, I decided Wilkes was a better fit for me. 

My team attended the camp in July 2021. We had a great experience and went again last summer. During this time, Coach Poff and I have become friends. We have spoken at length about coaching, wrestling, and life. He sat with my dad and me for an hour during one of the breaks from camp. He told stories about Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, Shorty and the Bonomo brothers. But, of course, he didn’t have to do that. He was busy running a camp for over 600 wrestlers. But Carl Poff did.

Carl Poff

Last March, I reached out to Coach Poff for coaching advice. I sent him a quick text. Coach Poff immediately called me. He gave me his thoughts and opinions. I respected his honesty and willingness to be open with someone he didn’t know well. Coach Poff was sincere. He listened to what I had to say. What I respected most was that he admitted he didn’t have all the answers. 

Recently, I asked Coach Poff what advice he had for coaches and wrestlers. He sent me what he entitled, “Success and Winning.” 

It has been said we’ve been given one mouth and two ears for a reason. To listen twice as much as we speak. When we truly listen, not only listen to respond, something inside us is ignited, and we become inspired. 

In this inspired state, something deeper inside of us grows. From there, we can become the best version of ourselves. 

Success and Winning Character

• Be loyal to your friends, teammates, athletes, and colleagues.

• Keep your word. If you commit to something, you follow thru.

• Trust, once lost, is very difficult to regain. 

• Honesty — do the right thing even when it’s difficult. Be accountable and take responsibility for your actions and decisions. 

• Selflessness — go out of your way to help others. 


• Attitude is something you can control. Be positive daily.

• Regret is a horrible thing. Put forth your best effort in everything you do.

• Perseverance, passion, and persistence win out over talent.

• Be grateful for opportunities. Have gratitude towards those who have made a difference.

• Respect history. Appreciate the people, athletes, and coaches that preceded you. 

• Surround yourself with successful people.

• Relationships take time and effort. They are invaluable. Your network is the key to success.

Goal Setting

• Commit yourself to your goals. Embrace the process.

• Failure is just another step toward success.

• Desire, determination, and dedication are the keys to achieving goals.

• Daily commitment is the key ingredient to achieving long-term goals

• Visualize the outcome you want to achieve.

• Having a competitive spirit and strong work ethic are keys to achieving goals. 

Coach Poff closed with a quote from my father, Chris: “To be a better person today than you were yesterday, to be a better son/daughter, a better father/mother, a better husband/wife each day of your life. Then, and only then, can you be a true champion.”

(John Klessinger is a teacher and wrestling coach at South River High School in Maryland. You can follow him on Instagram @coachkless and like his Facebook page “Coach Kless”.)