The Howard family
has deep roots in Lakers athletics,
particularly wrestling, with a Howard
serving as a head coach for nearly six decades.
Thanksgiving dinner for the Howard family often features a toast by “Grandpa” and Emeritus Wrestling Coach Jim Howard Sr. that wishes a fair and successful season for the many coaches at the table. It also includes a shout-out to his grandson and professional ice hockey goalie, Jimmy Howard III, that he might bring home the Stanley Cup for his Detroit Red Wings.
“Athletics and coaching are the typical topics of conversation around the Howard dinner table,” explained Mike Howard Jr. ’10 M’15, who was a four-year member of the Laker wrestling team and a 2009 Scholar All-American, and is the current wrestling coach at Oswego High School. “We have the family drive for athletics. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas day or our birthday; we’ll get up and do our workout and weight training. It’s ingrained in us, and we’re proud of it.”
He is the eldest son of current Lakers Wrestling Head Coach and Golf Coach, Michael Howard ’90, and Su-Ann Akley Howard ’92, and the brother of Brittany Howard, the head coach of women’s lacrosse at SUNY Oswego. Britt and Mike Jr.’s brother, Matt Howard, was on the Oswego women’s lacrosse coaching staff for the 2018 season. Su-Ann’s brother, Shawn Akley ’96, wrestled for the Lakers as well and today officiates wrestling matches throughout the region.
Mark Howard ’84, the middle son of Emeritus Coach Howard, was inducted into the Oswego State Athletic Hall of Fame during Homecoming Weekend 2019 for his contributions to the wrestling team. Mark’s daughter, Kimberly Howard Pacific ’09 M’12, also attended Oswego and now teaches in the Central Square (N.Y.) School District.
Jimmy III’s father, Jim Jr. ’79, played men’s ice hockey for the Lakers, and his sister, Katie Howard Bottari ’08, is also a Laker.
A Legacy Begins
As the patriarch of the Howard family, Jim Howard Sr. established his family’s roots along the shores of Lake Ontario when he was recruited away from his high school wrestling coach position in Windsor, N.Y., to become the wrestling coach at SUNY Oswego in 1962.
But he didn’t start the job at Oswego until he had finished organizing and hosting the first New York State High School Wrestling Championship, which was held at Cornell University in 1963. Through his work with that, and with his years of coaching, he had a tremendous wrestling network and connections to the best high school wrestling coaches across the state—which helped him recruit the best talent to SUNY Oswego.
“My first year I recruited seven seniors from Windsor to wrestle at Oswego,” said Coach Emeritus Howard, who was inducted into the Oswego State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001, having coached 28 NCAA All-American wrestlers, including three national champions, among many other accolades. “With a strong nucleus like that, the good program got better. And success breeds more success.”
In addition to recruiting strong talent, he said he often looked for student-athletes who were hard workers with something to prove.
“Many of these young men were the first in their family to attend college,” he said. “And they were loyal to each other, and we established connections that would last a lifetime. These individuals have become part of my family.”
At Home in Laker Hall
“Over the door to the wrestling room there is a sign that says, ‘Through these portals pass the hardest-nosed wrestlers in the East,’” said Mark Howard during his acceptance speech at the Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. “I have known a lot of these wrestlers … I am the son of one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport. As kids, we pretty much ran in the halls of Lee Hall in the early years, and Laker Hall, in the later years. SUNY Oswego has been so great to so many of my friends, and so many of my family.”
Throughout the generations, Laker Hall itself has become a second home to many of the Howards.
“My earliest memories are of Laker Hall,” said Mike Sr., who had served as an assistant coach before becoming head coach after his father’s retirement in 1989. “I knew every square inch of that building. My brothers and I considered the wrestlers on the team as family members. They would come over to our house for dinner, and my mom [Barbara] would cook for all of us.”
For Mike Jr., he can’t think of SUNY Oswego without thinking of Laker Hall and the smell of the mats in the gym.
“It’s such a vivid memory—everything about Laker Hall is imprinted on my brain,” he said. “I crawled on those mats, then ran around on them and eventually wrestled on them.”
When it came time to decide where to go to college, his family encouraged him to attend whatever school he wanted. His “uncles”—the older wrestling alumni whom he knew from his childhood days in Laker—convinced him that Oswego was the best place for him.
“It just felt right,” he said. “The college was my home and was filled with my family.”
But like previous generations, being a Howard coached by a Howard was anything but easy.
“Going home for vacation was not a vacation,” Mike Jr. joked. “I could never get away with anything.”
His dad agreed and said it was the same way for him—as the son of Coach Jim Howard.
“I was the guy who would always get called out or get my weight checked,” Mike Sr. said. “I’d take the brunt of it for everybody else—say if I was a little heavier than where I should have been, and everyone else was scattering through the locker room because they knew if they got on the scale it would be the same situation for them.”
United Through the Years
Today, the Howards meet with their wrestling family at least once every two years during Reunion Weekend in June. True to the family setting, the alumni gather at Coach Emeritus Jim Howard’s home for a steak bake and reminiscing.
“I feel lucky to have been around the program my whole life,” said Mike Jr. “I look forward to our reunions, and what’s really great is that the older guys treat me like one of their own. That’s what generates a lifetime of connections and relationships that span generations.” —Margaret Spillett
Read about other families that have generations of Lakers here.