Legends of Section IX: wrestling coach John Lennon

Posted 3/25/20

LIBERTY, NY — It takes a real grappler to know what the sport of wrestling is all about.

In other words, when you’re teaching a generation of new matmen in a sport where the rubber …

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Legends of Section IX: wrestling coach John Lennon


LIBERTY, NY — It takes a real grappler to know what the sport of wrestling is all about.

In other words, when you’re teaching a generation of new matmen in a sport where the rubber meets the road—or in the case of wrestling, when you face a determined opponent out there all by your lonesome in front of a crowd—it truly matters if you’ve put in your time on a mat.

John Lennon, coach of the combined 2019-2020 wrestling team of Eldred, Liberty and Sullivan West (commonly referred to as ELS Wrestling) has been around high-school mats since he was part of the Liberty High School wrestling program from 1964 until he graduated in 1970.

While at the Home of the Indians, Lennon joined the wrestling program as one of the first seventh and eighth graders to take to the mat alongside the older grapplers. “In 1966, way back, Liberty was a DUSO (Dutchess Ulster Sullivan Orange) League champion,” said Lennon.

During a career in which he competed in the 138-pound weight class as a senior, Lennon recalled a couple of memorable bouts against wrestlers from Newburgh Free Academy.

“I lost to this kid on Friday the 13th. It was one of the only times I got pinned that season,” recollected Lennon. “In my sophomore year, I wrestled a returning state place finisher. I got the takedown, put him on his back, and then he proceeded to kick my.”

In another high-school bout, the future wrestling coach was pitted against Art Trovei, a state finisher from Port Jervis, and battled him to a 2-2 tie.

In the wake of a 30-year career with the Town of Liberty Highway Department, Lennon pulled the plug: “I’m retired professionally!”

But back to the mat.

Lennon started to coach wrestling at his high school alma mater during the 1979-1980 season under the formative tutelage of Ron Schulte and Ron Francisco.

The 2019-2020 season of sports marked his 40th year coaching local high school matmen, and the ELS squad posted a 13-8 record—not a bad accounting for a small combined team that frequently faced larger squads.

Asked to single out the best wrestlers from this past season, Lennon’s picks were Henry Peters of Sullivan West, who placed third in sectionals “in a tough weight class at 170” and second last year, along with Eldred’s Joey Curreri and Hunter Roberts, who were tabbed sectional champs in their respective weight brackets and each went on to compete at the States with a win-loss record of 1-2.

“They were outstanding wrestlers,” said Lennon who, before a Section IX tri-meet at Liberty last year, was honored by the local wrestling community for his 39th year at the helm of the varsity program.

“The sport has evolved in different ways since when I wrestled,” said Lennon, citing there is now more of a focus of technique, standardization of the weight certification process, and a system of “track wrestling” that keeps tabs of “every kid’s matches and points over their wrestling careers.”

While scholastic wrestling, sometimes known in the U.  S. as folkstyle wrestling, is often thought of as a mano-a-mano sport, it has recently grown to include the literary license term of girlo-a-girlo as women and girls take to the mat, following the lead of the Eastern States Intercollegiate Wrestling Association’s first tournament of 1905.

An all-girls team was created by coach Dustin Carter at Massachusett’s Brookline High School in 1993. Three years later, it became an official high school team.

In 1997, the first official U.S. Girls Wrestling Nationals took place, and in 2004, women’s wrestling became an Olympic sport.

“At the Eastern States, the really good girls optioned to wrestle boys because they were just that good, and it’s greater recognition,” said Lennon of the increasing number of girls joining the ranks of high school wrestling programs.

So, what does a high-school-level grappler gain from sweating it out on the mat?

“There are so many aspects of the sport,” replied Lennon. “The mental, the physical… You show up for practice every day; when you’re banging heads in the practice room, full contact, even in the drills, you’ve got to bang heads with your partner.

“Mentally, it’s one-on-one, being able to go out and compete in today’s world… You’re on your own out there, nobody else. In my mind, it’s a team sport, but you have your own win-loss record. You win and lose on your own.”

What makes the heart of a wrestler?

“I’ve always related wrestling to a chess match,” said Lennon. “You present in a different way, so the other person doesn’t know what you’re going to do… Setting up the moves, trying to figure out where they’re going and where you’re going, being able to have a sense for what’s happening in the match.”


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