Considered the founding father of Maine Interscholastic Wrestling, John Caramihalis almost single-handedly brought wrestling to major sports status at Sanford High School and was a driving force in developing wrestling at the state level through recognition by State Principal’s Association. He initiated the Sanford tradition that has endured for over 20 years.
John Caramihalis was a member of the Springfield College squad under Doug Parker (1949-53) and was New England A.A.U. champion in 1952. That same year he completed in the National AAU championships at Cornell University.
Caramihalis came to Sanford in 1958 and immediately made his presence known in this "new" sport called wrestling. Early newspaper accounts place the first interscholastic dual meet in Maine at Sanford gymnasium between Portland and Sanford High Schools in February 1059. That year Sanford and Portland split dual meets on a home and home basis, while Sanford lost to the Perkins School for the Blind. Mainstays for the squad were the brother combination of Ron and Rick Sparkowich. In the first interscholastic tournament ever held in Maine, Sanford outlasted a tough Deering team 110-105, with Sanford crowing four individual champions. This was the first of six consecutive championships that Caramihalis won at Sanford, and this first of 11 consecutive titles for Sanford before Belfast would knock them out of the top spot in the 1969 Class A tournament.
In 1960 Sanford extended their wrestling schedule to Cooperstown, NY against Central High. It was the start of a two year dual competition. Portland also continued to wrestle the Redskins. An oddity occurred in the state meet that year as Sweeney and Bean, both of Sanford, ended the 121 pound finals in a 6-6 draw. With no clear means of breaking the deadlock, both wrestlers were declared the winner, the only time that such a tie has occurred in any tournament competition in Maine.
Wrestling in New England was really beginning to grow in 1961 and the Sanford schedule was also extended to include Winnacunnett High School of Rye, New Hampshire, as well old foe Perkins School in Boston. This was also the first year the Northern New England Tournament, the winners of which would be eligible for the New England meet. Sanford won that first Northern tourney by edging Braintree, Massachusetts 70-79. White (120) and Sparkowich (154) won gold medals.
Sanford continued to dominate in 1962 and 1963. The 1962 state tourney at Lisbon saw two classes crown champions, with four teams in class A and eight teams in class B. Sanford easily won A tourney that year and crowned six individual champs. The following year was an even bigger runaway in a four team and nine gold medal winners.
Caramihalis’ best team at Sanford was the last team he coached there. That squad led by the likes of Doug Libby, Keith Kalman, Reggie Monroe, Paul Scarponi, and Dave Woodsome, made a shambles of the state tournament and won the New England Tournament as well, the first of only two Maine teams to ever accomplish that feat. Monroe (112), Libby (127) and Kalman (165) won New England titles.
Caramihalis moved to Biddeford for the 1965 campaign. That particular state tournament saw the closest finish in any state meet up to that point. Caramihalis had his Tigers up as Sanford and Biddeford wrestlers met head to head in six of the 12 classes. Sanford prevailed, however and the upset should have been, never materialized. That 1965 season marked the zenith of Biddeford wrestling. After one more season at Biddeford, Caramihalis did graduate study at Duke University, during which time he coached the freshman team. Upon returning to Maine, he worked as a physical therapist in Sanford. He initiated varsity wrestling at Nasson College in Springvale and coached there for three seasons (1972-74). He was on the Maine and New England board of wrestling officials for many years and was the United States Wrestling Federation representative for Maine in the early 1970’s.
The impact that John Caramihalis has made on interscholastic wrestling in Maine is still being felt. Although no longer actively involved in the sport, he still follows intently the fortunes of the Sanford Redskins and can be seen at the state tournament, wherever it is held. Many of his early pupils are seen as coaches, officials, parents of wrestlers, and avid fans of the state.