LHW: What do you think about the trend where we’re seeing more and more 7th and 8th graders wrestling varsity?
HOWIE: Having 7th and 8th graders on the varsity wrestling team just doesn’t work for us; we’ve only done it twice. I don’t believe it’s necessary to build a great high school program, and there’s too much of a maturity gap between a 7th or 8th grader and a high school senior. It’s difficult to do it right. A solid middle school and high school program is enough to get the job done.
Many kids are hungrier when they haven’t been wrestling since they were little kids. We want them fresh and hungry. We’ll teach them to be great wrestlers. For example, look at Steve Delorenzo; he didn’t qualify for the counties as a 10th grader. However, with the right program, an inexperienced kid can reach his potential. He doesn’t have to wrestle varsity as 7th or 8th grader to develop as a great wrestler.
LHW: A lot of the thought is that if you don’t have good pee wee and middle School programs it’s impossible to develop a top flight high school program. What’s your view on that?
HOWIE: It’s not enough to rely on the pee wee program to build a good high school program. We didn’t have a strong pee wee program until recently when Colin Curnuck began coaching the program five years ago. He’s doing a great job, and I’m expecting big things from that group of kids, but we haven’t seen them yet.
So for us, it always started at the middle school level. Most of the kids aren’t going to know how to wrestle when they get to you in ninth grade. There’s just not enough time in an eight week middle school program to make that happen.
We have a great middle school coach in Kurt Lassan who was a multiple time NY State place winner, and he has great support from his assistant Stu Kempinski. I want them to instill in the middle school wrestlers the work ethic required to be successful at the High School level. They [Kurt and Stu] do a great job letting the wrestlers know, hey, you’re here everyday. When you come into the room, you’re going to work hard.
Working hard and being responsible are the two most important lessons that we can teach to prepare the middle school wrestlers for the high school level. If they come to me as freshmen with the right attitude, we can turn them into champions. Both coach Lassan and coach Kempinski support that, and as a result, the 9th graders come to the high school ready to work and with the right attitude.