Latest Hard Metal Pricng

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thank You Coach Stevens!; Times Record: End of an era for Mark Stevens

MARK STEVENS poses with four of the seven state wrestling championship trophies at Lisbon High School. After 22 years leading the ’Hounds, Stevens has decided to step away from the sport that has been a major part of his life. BOB CONN / THE TIMES RECORD

The Times Record


When Mark Stevens was in high school, he faced a dilemma. 
He was preparing for the state high school wrestling championships, and the Lisbon student/athlete weighed 140 pounds on Monday, just five days before his shot at glory. 

Greyhounds coach Bob Donelan didn’t agree that Stevens was working to lose the weight, as the senior wanted to make the 126-pound division. 
Lots of running and a lack of food, combined with a never-ending determination worked for Stevens, as he lost the pounds and then defeated Mt. Blue rival Ralph McArthur, 6-4, in the 126-pound title match to capture the state championship. The year was 1982.

A photo published in The Times Record taken by longtime sports editor Dave Bourque showed an exhausted Stevens being congratulated by Mt. Ararat coach Dennis Bishop, and an article by Bourque a few days later had this quote from Mark ... “my attitude was so different Saturday. I was never that confident.”

Fast-forward 32 years, and Stevens, who led Lisbon to seven state titles as the Greyhounds’ coach, is leaving the sport that he has loved, left, came back to and endured in. 

Early days

When Mark finished his high school wrestling career, he was quite happy to leave the sport behind. He was burned out and was off to serve in the U.S. Air Force. But, soon wrestling was again a big part of his life. 

“They wanted to have a wrestling team, and I started again. I was cutting weight again and got back into it.”

Portland Press-Herald sports columnist Steve Solloway caught up with Mark and his brother Rocky as they competed in the Air Force, with Mark telling Steve, “We’re kind of the underdogs when we wrestle.”

When Mark’s time in the Air Force ended, he returned home, but still wrestled in open tournaments at Hyde School in Bath. Mark was on the mat the day before his first child was born. 

“In the hospital I have a picture of me holding her with a black eye on my face.”

Coaching, something Mark never considered, came about in 1992 when the Lisbon athletic director asked him to begin a middle school program at Sugg Middle School. He was assisted by Bob Earle, and soon the duo turned the Greyhounds into a force to be reckoned with. 

“At the middle school, we had 60 kids, so Bob and I ran two sessions with 30 kids each. They had some uniforms that they pulled out of a box. I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew how to wrestle, but knew that it took a lot more.” 

“I coached Mark when he was young in football,” remembered Earle. “I walked into Sugg years later and he was conducting a practice, and my youngest son was there. I offered to help, and watching Mark, he was just so dynamic. He impressed me. I coached with Mark for 11 years, and I owe a lot to him. It was a great honor.”

Coaching was difficult for Mark at first. So he turned to his wife, Gretchen, for some advice. 

 I asked my wife, ‘what if they don’t want to listen to me?’ She gave me some really good instructions. ‘You have to have structure, a plan, and have your plan incorporate repetition.’

Mark’s chance to move to the high school came in 1996, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. 

“Bob strongly encouraged the athletic director to post the position, with the middle school kids heading to the high school program after a lot of success. The job opened up, and I applied and got the job.”

In 1998, Mark remembers taking his young Greyhounds to Rumford to face Mountain Valley, coached by Jerry Perkins. 

“The huge light was lowered over the big falcon displayed centered on the wrestling mat. The Mountain Valley team passed around the rally stick and pounded the mat with their hands. This was all very intimidating to my young, inexperienced Lisbon wrestlers. We lost that match, but as we were leaving, coach Perkins said to me, ‘Mark, your wrestlers have good handshakes.’ 

“At first, I wondered if I should have been offended, but after a year or two, I realized what he meant. Later his assistant admitted our Lisbon wrestlers would be coming to Rumford and beating them on their mat in just a matter of time. It came true faster than anyone from Lisbon imagined.”

Mark soon had Lisbon pointed in the right direction, culminating in winning the State Class C championship in 2001. Mark remembers a speech he gave to his team the night before the state championship, a speech he has repeated every year since. 

“I told the kids to expect the unexpected. ‘You have trained hard, you’ve mentally prepared and physically prepared, but there will something that spins your world in the other direction.’ 

“I used an example of one of my studs, Derek Giusto, who later went on to be a three-time state champion. That year Derek had already beaten the Class A, B and C champ and was on fire, and I said ‘what if Derek goes out there and gets pinned, what will that do to the rest of you guys?’ 

“Derek went into the finals having already beaten his opponent 10-0 earlier in the season, and was leading 5-0, but got spun onto his back and pinned in the first period of the state finals, the first year it was held at the Augusta Civic Center. Derek had class, shook the kid’s hand and walked right out of the gym to collect himself. He never showed emotion.”

Mark remembers talking to the Dexter coach during that same meet. Dexter had won the state title three years in a row, and was a favorite to make it four. 

“The Dexter coach said his team was really looking toward New Englands, and that the state title wasn’t important, and being a young coach I said to myself that ‘I will never take winning a state title for granted.’ I know teams do that, but it is too important. It is not just about winning, but what it means about blood, sweat and tears.”

Clinching win

“I didn’t know how to keep score then, and the Dexter coach later came over after a win and told me ‘you have just won the state title.’ I didn’t believe him until they announced it after the event. The next year, I learned how to keep score.” 

State titles continued to come, with Lisbon taking the top prize in Class C in both 2002 and 2003.

Mark began coaching field hockey in the fall, as daughters Amanda and MaKayla made their way through high school. 

But, in the winter it was back to the mat, and Mark had his team on a roll again, with state titles for the Greyhounds coming in 2006, followed by three consecutive titles from 2008-10. There were great champions in the 2000s, names like Forest Cornell, Giusto, Mike McNamara, Marcus Bubar, Cameron Bubar, Mike McManus, Nate Hix and Will Vice, but Mark also remembers those who came up just a bit short in reaching their goal. 

“We have been inspired by many of my wrestlers who have come up short but still prepared their best. Ian McKeag, Josh Adams, Art Stambach and Tyler Bard just to name a few, wrestlers who never stood on the top podium at the state tournament, but trained harder than most. They inspired us as all of them displayed class at all times.” 

Mark felt that a turnaround at Lisbon came with the hiring of athletic director Jeff Ramich in 2002. 

“Jeff put together a schedule that was second to none. Our kids were wrestling a Class A schedule. Iron sharpens iron, and those who survive will be tough come February. We went to Vermont, the Noble Tournament, Spartan Tournament, Kennebunk Duals. We were the only Class C school in these invitational tournaments and we were always welcomed. I looked at these kids and said to myself, ‘they are the best in the state, not just in Class C.’”

There was a moment when Mark nearly walked away from the sport. He recalled a family drive that changed his mind. 

“After the 2003 season I was talking with Gretchen about retiring as we were traveling in the car. A voice from the back seat came from my 7-year-old son Zachary, as he asked, ‘Dad why would you want to get done coaching? It’s the only thing you’re good at.’  We had a laugh, well Gretchen did anyway. Wrestling was a way of life. It became my identity. I am thankful that I didn’t retire that year as the next 10 years have been unforgettable.”

A lasting image for Mark appears on his laptop computer. In Zach’s final match for Lisbon, the senior won his third state title. He rose from his feet and gave his dad a big hug, with tears filling their eyes. 

“When he was a sophomore, after he won he jumped into my arms, and that was 120 pounds. I said, ‘now you’re a lot bigger, and what will happen if you jump up into my arms again?’ We decided we were going to high-five, and I went to high-five him, but he said no and we hugged. It was more of a relief for him. His goal was a state title, and he wanted it. He did it well and I am proud of him.
“The greatest title anyone can have is being a dad. When I look back at my life, the greatest thing is being a dad and having the chance to coach all three of them.”

Mark quickly changed gears and reflected on his final team’s successes this year.   

“There were other kids that won that day. JD Martin had a come-from-behind upset with a pin in the final nine seconds, with all of us going nuts. It was about our team. We wrestled great with nine kids on the team, and we finished third. I felt like we had won the state title. Three had never wrestled before in their life. I was happy with the way the season ended.” 

Mark has a long list of fellow coaches, volunteers, assistant coaches and parents to thank. 

“I have been fortunate to have learned from some of the best coaches in the history of Maine wrestling. My high school coach Bob Donelen, and several great coaches including Dennis Bishop, Jerry Perkins and the late Gary Kent. I have learned every step of the way, from my wrestlers, to my assistant coaches and coaches from other teams. 

“Anyone who knows anything about building a team like Lisbon wrestling will tell you that it takes a community, not just one person. Bob Earle and Ted Albasini both have been coaching with me for over 10 years. Bob retired in 2007 shortly after being selected as National Assistant Coach of the Year for USA Wrestling Magazine. I have a lifetime of gratitude to give to Bob and Ted. Bob was a life cheerleader, always making me feel like I am doing the right thing. When I would make a decision that was not the right one, he would gently say, ‘coach you sure you want to do that?’ Bob was a hero to me and I would not have had the opportunities over the years if it was not for him leading me to be a better coach. 

“Ted also has been one of the most selfless, committed and honest men I have known. He is a role model and incredible man. When he speaks, our athletes hold on to every word. He had as much to do with building champions on the mat year-in and year-out since he came back to Lisbon in 2002.”

And about the kids he coached along the way and some of the changes he hopes to see in the future in regards to Maine wrestling ...

“You have to love your kids and be willing to have them learn about the value of themselves. At the end of the day, I worked with a team of guys that helped kids to realize their potential, maybe prepared them for the challenges in their lives. I am so close to many of my alumni, and that is the value that I have given and received. We took a team of people and didn’t expect it. I never took it for granted because it won’t last forever.

“Wrestling in Maine is in a transition. I see them combining classes, the end of the three-class system, and creating some co-op teams like in hockey. I have heard through the rumor mill that Massachusetts and New York have allowed seventh and eighth-graders to wrestle in high school. You want to build up the programs. The more internal competition you have on a team, the better the team.”

As is Mark’s way, he passed the credit to those who supported him. 
“I had some great help. It is not a one-man show. Even the dynasty that we had, it took a family of coaches, wrestlers, their parents and grandparents, and the community. 

“We taught our wrestlers good handshakes, character, with the cornerstones of wrestling being respect. The winning became a by-product of what we were doing in practice and it seemed to be a good recipe. 

“One of the things I pride myself in was whether you win or lose, you shouldn’t have an expression on your face that showed anyone any different. Kids don’t get that these days. If you have a tough battle and won, don’t show that until you are on the bus. If you lost because the kid was better than you and trained harder, keep your head high, same exact handshake, get on the bus and if you have to cry, cry. Just have honor and respect.”

In conclusion ...

“What Lisbon wrestlers have accomplished in the past 17  years has been truly amazing. The trophies are nice, but nothing compared to the unforgettable memories and experiences we shared. Those wrestlers, parents and coaches who have been a part of this journey have some great stories to tell. It would be more of a series of books once all these stories were told. The relationships that have been built, and the life lessons that have been learned through the experiences the past two decades are priceless. It was always about building ‘champion kids’ not just champion wrestlers.”  

“He has a way of bonding with his men and women,” said Earle. 

“He is a special human being. Mark prided himself in doing well when he coached at the middle school and continued that in high school. The kids bought in and believed in him. His kids, and myself, would go through a wall for Mark. Lisbon wrestling is Mark Stevens!”

BOB CONN is the Times Record assistant sports editor. He can be reached at

Posted in its entirety with permission.

1 comment:

Dot Fitzgerald said...

Kudos to Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens is an amazing person.
His license plate reads "amazack" for his son.

How many young boys hug their dad's, IN PUBLIC! ! ! ???

That alone tells you what kind of person Mark is.

Please watch the Town Council budget workshop to the end
where Mark is giving the Recreation Department budget, and
the Rec. Dept. fees for sports is discussed, when Mark quietly
says no child gets left out (because of the inability of the family to pay).

That tells it all!

We in Lisbon, and especially our children, are fortunate to have him here.

And running our Recreation

Dot Fitzgerald