Wrestling Moves; Otter Valley Grappling With Growth
Two years ago, if one had to predict the future of the Otter Valley wrestling team, it may have been bleak at best. With only a handful of wrestlers, the head coaching job up for grabs and the list of candidates at just one, it looked like the program had as much chance as a can of spinach at a Popeye convention. A program that had been around for at least a quarter of a century was on the endangered species list.
“I’d coached youth and middle school wrestling since 93 or 94”, said Steve Mitchell, the lone applicant, “But I’d never coached a varsity team and I wasn’t sure they’d give me the job”. I guess being coach and mentor to his four boys was sufficient job experience as far as Otter Valley AD, Steve Keith was concerned. Now, two years later, with his son George and Jesse Bilideau as assistants, Mitchell is at the helm of the good ship Otter Valley and she’s sailing for promising territory.
Back in 1968, Steve Mitchell started his wrestling career as a freshman for Hall of Famer Hubie Wagner at Middlebury High School. Having never wrestled until high school, he nonetheless was able to win the first OW award at JV states as a junior and managed to get a 4th place ranking as a senior. But as anyone that has ever wrestled will tell you, four years of wrestling will teach you a lifetime of lessons.
“Hubie was very demanding and expected the most out of you at all times and was able to get that out of a variety of different personalities – that’s what made him special. But as tough as he was on us physically, he hurt as much as we did when we lost…AND…when we won…let’s just say it was like a personal victory for him!”
That philosophy and the innate values that the grueling sport of wrestling teaches, molded Mitchell’s ideals. “I always felt that wrestling helped many parts in my life; commitment, passion, desire”, he says, “and that’s something I wanted to pass on to my sons. And that’s also why I wanted them to wrestle”.
Grappling With Growth
Fast forward to Feb., 2014. He has almost a full squad of wrestlers comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores, and a burgeoning youth and middle school program that should supply him at least three or four new prospects every year. Understandably, Coach Mitchell is experiencing a wee bit of a learning curve, but the principals he learned under Hubie are the virtues he tries to instill in his wrestlers. “I want them to show respect for each other, their coaches and the program and when you show that respect, you’ll get the best out of your team mates and coaches. The rest will take care of itself”.
One of his biggest assets, however, is the duo of talented assistant coaches he’s fortunate to have. “I’m just the logistical guy…at 61 years old I won’t be on the mats”, Mitchell muses, “I’ll let the young bucks do that. They have the experience and pedigrees I never had”. Mitchell’s son George is a three time state champ and Jesse Bilideau is a two time state champ that also wrestled at Plymouth State. “You can talk the talk, but having those two guys out there drilling hard with the boys every day helps to create the edge these young wrestlers need to learn. We teach them to feel the urgency to score, dominate and win”.
Steve’s biggest challenge is working with the different personalities, as Hubie did so many years before. “We practice hard for about two hours every day. These kids ALL have to realize that every move they make in practice has to be something to improve their wrestling. I just want a room full of kids that want to improve!…we have a couple of young wrestlers that have a good shot at state championships in the future, and I tell them that they have to lead by example and the other kids will follow their lead”.
“I’m also extremely fortunate to have a very supportive AD and a wrestling club that does a lot of fundraising. With the economy the way it is and budgets what they are, we’re pretty self sufficient. We have multiple fundraisers including bottle drives, yard sales and a breakfast with the team. And, my AD, Steve Keith, has gotten us several tournaments which also help us to raise money”.
“We’re working hard every day to make our program better and more competitive. With the wrestlers, coaches and support staff we have, we’ll be ready to make a good showing at the 2016 state championships, which I’m lobbying very hard to hold here at Otter Valley. Our program will be in full swing and we plan on being very competitive!”
Coach Mitchell has all of the elements in place to see his program develop. He’s got great coaching, a supportive administration, a booster club and most importantly a strong youth program, the life blood of any successful high school sport. The future indeed looks very bright for the Otter Valley grapplers.
Wrestling Moves; www.VermontWrestler.com