It was a phone call Chris Mary will never forget. It made him rethink his priorities.
"We were at the Virginia Duals [in January 2012] when my wife, Amy, called," said Mary, who was in his 12th season as head coach of the Canon-McMillan wrestling team. "My daughter, Ava Marie [now 3 years old], asked Amy where daddy lived, and when can we go visit him. That really blew me away."
That phone call, plus the addition of a second daughter, 1-year-old Alivia, reminded Mary of the most important thing in life. "Family has to come first. That's why I'm retiring after 23 years of coaching. It's time for me to spend more time with my family."
Mary's resignation was announced at Monday night's school board meeting, where the Big Macs wrestling team was recognized for winning its fourth consecutive WPIAL Class AAA title, its third team title in a row at the PIAA individual championships and second consecutive PIAA team title.
"Coach Mary has been one of the best ambassadors for the sport of wrestling in the state, and even the country," said Manuel Pihakis, who has been a member of the school board for the past 14 years and is chairman of the athletic committee. "Chris stressed sportsmanship and discipline and handled everything with class. You never hear about any of his kids having discipline problems."
The Mary family is well known in Western Pennsylvania wrestling lore. His brother, Phil, a 1983 graduate of Chartiers-Houston High School, won two WPIAL titles and two PIAA crowns. Chris, a 1984 Chartiers-Houston graduate, claimed three WPIAL titles, two PIAA bronze medals and one PIAA silver medal.
"My brother, Phil, gave me my first coaching job," Chris Mary recalled. "He was coaching at Peters Township and I was his assistant for five years or so."
Mary then became an assistant at Canon-McMillan under head coach Ken Smith. He took over as head coach in the 2000-01 season and led the Big Macs to a 213-44 record in 13 years. He ranks 27th on the WPIAL's all-time win list and is one of only 34 coaches with 200 or more wins.
The phone call from Mary's wife came during the 2011-12 season, but Mary wanted a swan song. He wanted to see whether the Big Macs could defend their three postseason titles.
"My family knew the 2012-13 season would be my last, but I didn't want anybody else to know," Mary said. "I didn't want my retirement to be a distraction. We had three titles to defend and I didn't want to give the kids the added pressure of winning for me."
The Big Macs gave Mary a great going away present by winning all three titles.
First was the WPIAL team title, as Canon-McMillan defeated Franklin Regional, 31-26, to win a fourth consecutive title. Then came the PIAA team title with a 34-31 win against Central Dauphin. The Big Macs hit the trifecta by claiming the team title in the PIAA individual championships for the third year in a row.
"It was incredible to have my coaching career end with Connor Schram, Solomon Chishko and Cody Wiercioch winning PIAA titles," Mary said. "I can't think of a better way to go out."
Mary held off on announcing his retirement to have some long-needed surgury to repair a torn rotator cuff and a bicep tear.
Pihakis said the school would immediately begin its search for a new coach but didn't believe they would have to look too far.
"We have two capable assistants in Glenn Haynes and Jason Cardillo who have been with the program for a long time," Pihakis said. "Both are capable of filling the head coaching job."
Mary said the most memorable moment of the 2012-13 season was a text message from his wife after his final match at the PIAA Class AAA tournament.
"Her text read -- 'The only AAA you will know now is Amy, Ava and Alivia,' " Mary said. "I just laughed. It was a perfect way to end my career."