November 9 will be a big day for the athletic program at Waite High School.
The Indians open their first day of wrestling practice that day, three years after Toledo Public Schools shut down wrestling programs at all six of its public schools and eliminated freshman sports because of a lack of funding.
First-year coach Shane Kokensparger’s wrestling squad opens the 2013-14 season at the 10-team Findlay Duals on Nov. 30.
“I’m excited,” said Kokensparger, who coached Waite’s junior high team to the CL title last season. “We’ve been working all summer long with some of the boys who have wrestled in the past. We did a lot of offseason workouts to go along with football. Turnout has been very good. I had 41 kids show up to our first meeting. I think we’ll have a very solid base of kids.”
TPS reinstated wrestling beginning this season, after cutting the sport following the 2009-10 school year. Several Waite wrestlers transferred to other schools.
“I think it’s great and imperative that TPS brought back wrestling,” Waite Athletic Director Cristina Lorton said. “More student athletes will remain with TPS and make TPS a top choice based on the variety of sports TPS offers, along with the rigorous academic curriculum. Students who attend TPS schools and participate in sports will be college and career ready. I believe we will get some student athletes back and attract new student athletes as well.
“I’m sure Shane will do a fantastic job. He is a teacher in the building and he works well with getting kids involved, and he is highly motivated.”
Kokensparger, 35, a 1996 graduate of Springfield High School, wrestled for the Blue Devils under coach Dave Daugherty, who is now at Swanton.
“I’ve always been able to call and talk to him about any advice I needed on the wrestling mat,” Kokensparger said. “Growing up, he cared for us and showed us respect and showed us that life doesn’t come easy, and the mat comes second. He is my biggest mentor in the wrestling world.”
Kokensparger, a special education teacher at Waite, said he plans to implement many of the things he learned from Daugherty.
“I’ve coached many teams in the past,” he said, “but to me it is how can we keep these kids off the streets and give them something positive. My main goal for this season is to show growth in GPAs, and then on the mat. I’m a teacher in the building. My function as a teacher comes first. If I can’t prepare these kids for life outside of high school, then preparing them for the mat isn’t going to help. My goal is to have high morals and live up to the standards that TPS has had in the past, present and future.”
Kokensparger said he has been working with Lorton and assistant school superintendant Brian Murphy to put together a plan to build both academic and athletic abilities for Waite wrestlers.
“Mrs. Lorton is a definite asset to have on my side,” Kokensparger said. “She has bent over backwards to allow me to schedule tournaments, to fund raise, to help with supplies, with tutoring sessions – anything to keep the kids eligible and off the streets and increase their respectfulness.”
The Indians have had recent success in wrestling. Coach Carmen Amenta’s squad won a CL title in 2000 and followed with a three-year league championship run from 2003-05. Waite’s last state placer was Alex Herrick, who took sixth in 2007 and ‘08.
“I know the past of Waite, and we have always had a strong tradition,” Kokensparger said. “I want to bring back tradition with a new group of kids. These kids have never had high school wrestling in their high school careers.”
Kokensparger said he shouldn’t have any problem filling every weight class this season.
“A lot of kids are into this UFC, and a lot of them have aspirations of becoming martial artists,” he said. “This is a base to teach ability, mental toughness. It all goes back to me for academic toughness. You have to succeed in the classroom or you can’t succeed in the wrestling room.”
Kokensparger said 15-20 wrestlers will compete at the junior high level this season under coach Chad Pardas.