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“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”
- entertainer Eddie Cantor, 1963
PEMBERVILLE - The fruits of Ralph Cubberly's labors glow brilliantly these days on high school wrestling mats around Ohio, and there is promise that they will continue to shine in the coming years.
And in reference to Eddie Cantor's notable observation, it took the Eastwood wrestling coach just 12 years to turn the Eagles into an “overnight success” within a Suburban Lakes League dominated for years by three teams.
Since the SLL was formed in 1972, those three schools have accounted for 29 of the 31 team wrestling championships. Oak Harbor, which joined the Sandusky Bay Conference in 1986, won 11 titles between '74 and '86. Current SLL members Lakota and Elmwood have won 10 and eight titles, respectively. Only Woodmore, in 1993, and Genoa, last year, have interrupted the status quo.
Thanks in large part to a commitment Cubberly made 12 years ago, three years after he became the head coach at his alma mater, Eastwood is embarking upon what might become a dynasty of its own, one that may reach well beyond the scope of northwest Ohio.
The commitment was to form a “biddy” wrestling program for kids ranging in age from 4 or 5 through eighth grade. Current Eastwood wrestlers who have gone through the youth program continue their work in the off-season in the Lake Erie Wrestling Club. They continue willingly because the sport has become a way of life for most of the Eagles.
“When we started we didn't really know what we were doing,” admitted Cubberly, who was 43-4, an SLL individual champion and a state qualifier as an Eastwood senior in 1981. “We just wanted to start getting wrestling out into the community. But we were on a learn-as-you-go basis. We weren't very good at first.
“The kids [at Eastwood] now got the benefit of us gaining that knowledge the first few years before we started working with them. These guys came through when it was all set up.”
Getting roughly 50 kids in the program each year, Cubberly found a positive trend of supportive parents and dedicated kids who rarely missed practices and willingly traveled to tournaments.
A measure of the Eagles' growth came last weekend when they finished second in the prestigious 39-team Alliance Top Gun tournament, traditionally one of the most competitive in Ohio. Eastwood is the state's No.4-ranked Division II team.
Winning titles for the Eagles were freshman Jan Ulinski at 103 and junior Kent Smith at 152. Sophomore Ryan Cubberly and senior Drew Lashaway placed second at 125 and 130, respectively.
Eastwood was within striking distance of winning the team title, but Cubberly fell 6-4 in overtime in the final, and Lashaway suffered his first loss of the season when he was taken down with 1.5 seconds remaining in a 5-4 decision in his final. Ben Llanas (31-2) placed third for Eastwood at 112, and Kyle Taylor took fourth at 119.
It was the latest in a series of impressive tournament finishes for the Eagles, who are 20-1 in dual meets, outscoring foes by an average of 62-9.
Eastwood won the Cincinnati Indians Hills dual-meet tournament, placed second in the 32-team Wadsworth Grizzlie Invitational, took third in the eight-team Ohio Division II state dual-meet championship meet, and added an SLL dual-meet title.
Lashaway, a state qualifier as a freshman, was sidelined before the SLL tourney last season by a snowmobile accident that landed him in a hospital for nearly two weeks with a ruptured kidney and lacerated spleen. He returned to competition with the Lake Erie team in June.
“To overcome that was a big thing,” Lashaway said. “I made a goal to get back into it and really work hard at it. This season, since it's my last one, I decided to focus really hard on the state tournament because I didn't get a chance at it last year.”
Lashaway is glad the overnight success occurred in time to include him.
“The practice environment is better this year,” Lashaway said. “There's more intensity. And it doesn't take the coaches to get us motivated. We're focused and we know we're ready to do the job. I would have never thought this would happen a couple years ago.”
What lies ahead is the SLL championship tournament, and then sectional, district and state competition.
The Eagles' success in these events and in the future remains to be seen, but things look promising. Their current 14-wrestler lineup has just two seniors and two juniors.
Eight sophomores and two freshman represent the present, the future and perhaps just the tip of the iceberg for Cubberly's program, which got an added boost when former Lakota coach Joe Wyant joined the Eagle staff last season.
Wyant, who was the Raiders' head coach for six years after 20 as an assistant, lends the knowledge earned from a championship program. He convinced Cubberly to shift his basic strategic approach, and serves as the personal guide for Ryan Cubberly.
“A lot has to do with coach Wyant,” Ralph Cubberly said. “Before he came over we were basically on our feet, taking guys down and letting 'em go. Joe brought in a philosophy of turning guys over and pinning 'em. Last year we had 244 pins. The year before we had maybe 100.
“Every time you pin a kid in a tournament you get an extra two points [three in a dual meet]. We had 26 pins at Wadsworth, that's 52 extra points.”
Wyant, 50, has seen the best of the best in the SLL, and feels this Eastwood squad has the potential to be as good as any. If not this season then perhaps in coming years. And next year?
“We've got a really good group of eighth-graders coming,” said Cubberly, the overnight success.