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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
BY BOB CONN
The Times Record
When Mark Stevens was in high school, he faced a dilemma.
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.
coach Bob Donelan didn’t agree that Stevens was working to lose the
weight, as the senior wanted to make the 126-pound division.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.’
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?’
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Mark has a long list of fellow coaches, volunteers, assistant coaches and parents to thank.
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.
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
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
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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.”
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!”