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FROM MAT TO PAPERBACK: Wrestling Coach Jeffire publishes a novel

Wrestlers love a challenge. Three summers ago, coach and former wrestler John Jeffire accepted a formidable challenge, but instead of packing a gym bag and heading to the wrestling room to practice, he picked a pen and notebook and began writing. The result is his first novel, Motown Burning, which is being released by Trafford Publishing of Canada.

The book follows the struggles of Aram Pehlivanian, a high school drop-out and wrestler who battles his way through the 1967 Detroit riots and a tour in Vietnam. It took Jeffire a year and a half to produce the first draft of the book.

"I had tried to write a novel at least two other times, but I couldn't get anywhere after a few lame chapters," Jeffire observed. "My life is overwhelmingly busy as a teacher and coach and husband and father, and my writing had been mainly confined to poems, short stories, and feature articles, pieces I could complete in the few spare moments I could devote to writing."

Despite the lack of free time, he dedicated himself to crafting a novel three summers ago.

"After twenty some years of this, I felt I needed to commit myself to something bigger," Jeffire explains. "I had to quit making excuses and get after it. In a sense, it was like being a wrestler again training and preparing for competition. The summer was the perfect time to get started because classes were over and the freestyle season had ended, so on a family vacation to Hawaii I started the first few chapters. At the end of the vacation, I had about six chapters complete, and I could see the rough direction the story was headed in."

Jeffire knew he was on track when the novel won the 2005 Mount Arrowsmith Novel Competition. "That helped," he said, "because I could finally be certain that the story wasn't just making sense to me but others were getting it, too."

Jeffire is no stranger to the wrestling mat. He was a three year letterman at Bowling Green (OH) High School and was college team captain his senior year at St. Lawrence University (NY). In 1980, he trained in Greco-Roman wrestling in Sweden with the Vasteras Brottarklubben. He has been involved in the sport as a competitor or coach for nearly 30 years.

"I didn't grow up wrestling but I was little and ornery so I got pulled out of a gym class and put on the team," he says. "I really never had a coach until my junior year of high school, but I loved the intensity of the sport and the physical and mental challenge of it."

He got into coaching in Massachusetts when he was working on his masters' degrees at Northeastern University and Boston University. He was an assistant at Chelmsford High School for three seasons, and in 1986 the team won state and New England titles. He next assisted at Heidelberg College in 1988 before he got his first head coaching job, at The University of Findlay.

At Findlay, his squad won the NAIA National Championship in 1995 and Jeffire was voted National Coach of the Year. He posted an overall record of 70-22-2 and his teams landed in the top 10 at nationals five times. His wrestlers captured five individual national titles and 40 All-American awards.

He then moved to Hilliard Davidson as head wrestling coach and English teacher for the 1997-8 year, and his team won the Sectional championship and was District runners-up on the way to an 8-1 record. Eastern Michigan University was his next stop, where he was asssistant coach for two seasons. He is now co-head wrestling coach and English teacher at Chippewa Valley High School. His teams have twice made the Michigan state championship quarterfinals and posted a 113-45-2 record in the six years since arrived.

"Many people seem to raise an eyebrow when they learn I coach wrestling and teach writing, but I see the connection between wrestling and writing as a natural one," said Jeffire. "There's something about the discipline, solitariness, and work ethic needed in both that makes them compatible. Plato, Abe Lincoln, Ken Kesey, and John Irving are all great writers who were also accomplished wrestlers, so I see the combination as nothing unusual."

He competed or coached in the following international exchanges: Sweden (1979, 1980, 1994, 1995), Denmark (1979), Africa (1980), Finland (1995), Soviet Union (1991), Germany (1992), Poland (1992), Sri Lanka (1993), Turkey (1995), Ukraine (1996), Belarus (2002), and Russia (2002). In 1996, he was an athlete escort in both greco-roman and freestyle wrestling at the Atlanta Olympic Games, and in 1998 he was inducted into the Hancock County (Ohio) Athletic Hall of Fame. In October, he will be inducted into The University of Findlay Athletic Hall of Fame.

As for the future, Jeffire will keep writing.

"Getting that first book finished is like a wrestler winning his first tournament," he commented. "Once you figure out how it's done, your confidence grows and you want more. I've got ideas for three more books right now, so there is plenty of work to pour my energy into."

For more information on Motown Burning and how to order a copy, visit Jeffire's site at
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