The Legendary Coach Mark Donovan of Shawsheen wrestling and winner of nearly 600 dual meets and 28 Commonwealth Athletic Conference championships died Sunday afternoon at 55 following a 17-month battle with cancer.
He inspired the Massachusetts wresting community by coaching the entirety of his 36th and final season during the fall II calendar while participating in clinical trials at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The Tewksbury native, who took the job at Shawsheen at 19 years old, led the Rams to their 14th consecutive league title in his final season. The program’s loss was to state powerhouse St. John’s Prep.
“What he’s done Shawsheen Tech shouldn’t be that good at anything. It’s like Shawsheen football competing with Everrett every year,” said Mike Donovan, the Tyngsborough wresting coach and Donovan’s nephew. “He’s on the Mount Rushmore of Mass. wrestling coaches.”
At Shawsheen, Mark Donovan coached multiple Division 1 state, All-State, and New England champions, was inducted into the Massachusetts Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2014. Mark Donovan hailed from a wrestling family. His brother, Al is 10 years his senior – coached Mark through his senior year of high school at Tewksbury before he took the position at Shawsheen. He leaves behind his wife, Patti, and his two sons, Shawn and Matt.
“It’s horrible. Mark was a great guy. He was who we all strive to be. He’s got great kids and a great program every year. Massachusetts wrestling will not be the same without him. He’s certainly someone I try to model my coaching after,” Lawlor said.
Haverhill coach Tim Lawlor, with whom Mark had a close relationship, was devastated by the news of his passing. Haverhill and Shawsheen traditionally wrestled each other in the final dual meet of the regular season. The two teams’ last meeting was in 2020, which Shawsheen won.
Mike Donovan said he and the family have received numerous condolences via text message and social media from the Massachusetts wrestling community.
Al Constable Shawsheen athletic director arrived 24 years ago when Mark was in his coaching tenure and both developed a friendship so fast.
There’s givers in this world and there’s takers, and Mark Donovan was the biggest giver I ever knew. He was very committed to teaching life lessons through wrestling and athletics,” Constable said. “I don’t know anybody who’s done so much for so many people, and after they graduate, it’s continued.
When he spoke to the Globe in late May, he said coaching wrestling gave him a sense of purpose while undergoing harsh treatments. One month prior, in April, the gym at Shawsheen was named in his honor, and even then, he understated the tribute and focused his attention on his team. Always humble and tenacious even while facing steep odds, Mark Donovan battled cancer with the same trademark combination of grace and fearlessness he exhibited from the corner of the wrestling mat.
Mark said at the time. “It was amazing,” “I never thought I would have a gym named after me. I don’t consider myself a legend or all that stuff. I’m just a regular guy who wants to help kids.” And that’s how he’ll be remembered.
He’d do anything for anybody,” Mike Donovan said. “He wore his heart on his sleeve, and he’d do anything for anybody.” “He just had the biggest heart and the kindest guy.