Hawthorn Citizen’s Weightlifting Club
The Hawthorn Citizen’s Weightlifting Club started as a section of the Hawthorn Citizens’ Youth Club (HCYC) as far back as 1952 with Sam Coffa as the pioneer. He had a group of about 5 boys who were interested in ‘lifting weights’. Sam acted as leader and through reading Strength & Health magazine and other Weightlifting books started to learn about Olympic Weightlifting – the Press, the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. The HCYC was reluctant to foster the group because it feared inherent danger in the ‘lifting of weight’. The group survived for a while practicing only once a week. The group also practiced Wrestling.
In 1956 (Melbourne Olympic Games) the Games Training Venue was in Drill Street, Hawthorn. Sam Coffa was at the venue everyday watching, learning, asking questions and taking photos of all the Champions of that era. By this time, Sam’s family migrated to Australia and Paul Coffa (younger brother of Sam) joined the group. There were now over 12 members in the group and the HCYC Committee recognised their contribution and their attitude by moving them to a larger room (shared with other activities) and was also able to have some members of the Victorian Amateur Weightlifting Association to come once in a while to teach Sam and his group. By now the group was training twice per week (Tuesdays and Saturday afternoons).
In 1958 the Empire and Commonwealth Games Weightlifting Trials were held at the Hawthorn Town Hall and Sam met Helmut Shindler and Karl Walcher who were competing and both of whom lived in Hawthorn. After some weeks of training in the garage of the premises occupied by Helmut and Karl, Sam was so impressed with the standard of this duo he suggested that they should join in the group at the HCYC.
Hawthorn Weightlifting Club
This was achieved – and the Club was officially established with original members Sam Coffa, Paul Coffa, Helmut Shindler and Karl Walcher. The Club was joined later by Danny Priekopa, Joe Cincotta, Tony Marguccio, Alby Dutton, Jeff Dutton. The members officially competed as a Club at an Open VAWA Competition in August 1958. Helmut Shindler was the first official Head Coach and we started training three times per week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon. The Club grew so big and we had so much success, including our first international representative, Sam Coffa at the 1962 Empire and Commonwealth Games, that the Hawthorn City Council erected a purpose built Weightlifting Gym in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. The Club by now was operating very successfully and at the Opening Ceremony of the new Gym Sam Coffa and Tony Marguccio qualified for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and they were both selected.
The Club in 1979 shifted to the newly erected Hawthorn Recreation Centre bolstering hundreds of members and having developed some of the best Coaches in Australia including the legendary Paul Coffa, Master Coach still active and one of the World’s best Coaches. The Centre was officially opened in November 1979 with Sam Coffa presiding as the Mayor of the City of Hawthorn. The ceremony featured Rolf Milser (World and Olympic Champion) and the late Club member Ian Laurie (Robert Kabbas was to be the lifter but was injured). This was a golden period for the Club as seldom Australian Teams were selected without majority representation from Hawthorn.
Another shift took place in the late eighties when the Club took refuge in the vacated Grand Stand facilities at the Hawthorn Football Club. In this venue we welcomed the former Eastern Europeans who migrated to Australia in 1991 which included World, European and Olympic Champions like Blagoi Blagoev, Kiril Kounev, Sevdalin Marinov, Nicu Vlad, Stefan Botev and at a later stage Yurik Sarkisian, Alex Karapetyan and Sergo Chakhoyan. The Club was made a full member of the Victorian Institute of Sport and a satellite of the Australian Institute of Sport under Paul Coffa as Head Coach and Blagoi Blagoev as his assistant. Needless to say the bulk of the Australian Teams were made up of Hawthorn members and the ground was laid for Hawthorn to become the spiritual home of Australian Weightlifting.
The eighties heralded a new age for international weightlifting – the addition of the world weightlifting championships for women. Hawthorn’s own Debbie Smith was a member of the inaugural Australian Womens weightlifting team in 1983. In 2000, Sydney, Australia hosted the first Olympic games that had womens weightlifting. A former Hawthorn member was there, representing Australia. In Manchester, 2002, Hawthorn’s own Seen Lee was the first Australian Weightlifter to ever represent the country at a commonwealth games and won Australia’s first ever medal in this event.
Hawthorn Club members have won Olympic and World Championships medals and certainly dozens and dozens of Commonwealth Games medals. This year, the club will celebrate its 60th anniversary. With many talented members at both Senior and Junior levels the future looks bright for the Hawthorn Weightlifting Club.