By JAMIE BAKER
It may take some time, but in the future, more Liberty-Benton athletes could get the opportunity to step on the mat.
Few schools in the region can match the success L-B athletes have had on the basketball court, football and soccer fields and in track and cross country over the past 25 years.
Dozens, perhaps a hundred, pictures of student-athletes that have earned all-Ohio honors in various sports line the wall outside of the gymnasium at Liberty-Benton High School.
One picture, though, sticks out like a sore thumb.
It’s a photo of heavyweight John Chapin striking a pose after he finished fourth in the 1982 Class A state wrestling tournament in the unlimited class.
He was the Eagles’ first and only state wrestling placewinner before the school scuttled the wrestling program in the late 1980s.
Sophomore Tyler Sarreshteh, a transfer student from Findlay, is wrestling as an individual for Liberty-Benton this season.
And a few of Sarreshteh’s classmates have expressed interest in trying the sport.
Liberty-Benton co-athletic director Scott Garlock is hoping that Sarreshteh’s participation can help kick-start the a re-introduction of wrestling at the school.
But it will take a few years.
Much like when the school added boys and girls soccer several years ago, a wrestling program would have to begin as a non-funded club sport to make sure there would be enough interest for the school to officially sponsor the sport.
If there is enough interest, the school board would have to approve the sport and a junior high and or high school team could be added.
Liberty-Benton was never a small-school power, but always seemed to have good numbers when the school sponsored wrestling teams in the 1970s an ‘80s. Frequently, L-B had 20 or so wrestlers on the roster, even when the school was considerably smaller than it is today.
Three NW Ohio schools, Ada, Antwerp and Parkway have added teams in recent years starting with junior high programs and adding a high school team the following year.
With 160 boys in the top three grades, according to the latest OHSAA enrollment figures. Liberty-Benton is the largest school in the Northwest District without a wrestling team.
Preliminary plans are underway to form a club team for elementary, middle school and high school aged athletes beginning next school year.
Finding the right coach to get the club program started will be instrumental as to whether an L-B wrestling program can get off the ground.
“It’s a good thing because it can involve kids of all shapes and sizes who don’t play basketball in the winter,” said Garlock. “We want to find someone to coach wrestling who will fit in with our coaching staff and is willing to work with the other sports we have. Someone who wants to build the program from the ground up.
“We have some great athletes here who are willing to work hard. I think with the kids we have we could have some success in wrestling pretty quickly.”
The addition of a wrestling program at L-B could, in turn, impact the Blanchard Valley Conference.
With Hopewell-Loudon and North Baltimore coming into the league in 2013-14, there would be six BVC school with wrestling team. A team at L-B would make seven BVC schools with wrestling programs.
That would be enough for the conference to field a championship in the sport for the first time since the early 1980s when Leipsic and Arlington discontinued their programs.
By JAMIE BAKER