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1997 Coach of the Year
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Wrestling -- Steve Powell
Easton Area High School - Easton, Pennsylvania 

Hold an election to determine the nation's best area for high school wrestling, and its certain that Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley will get plenty of votes.  Need proof?  Just give Easton High wrestling Coach Steve Powell a call.  His answering machine tells the story: School's started, wrestling season is just around the corner".  Many teams have carried the banner for the Valley over the years.  The last two years, it's been Easton's turn.  The strength of Easton wrestling is nothing new.  After all, the school has crowned at least one district champion every year since the District 11 tournament was initiated in 1948. But the national strength of Easton wrestling is outstanding individuals and one of the nation's toughest schedules has taken the Rovers to back-to-back Class AAA state team championships, earning top 5 finishes in the national rankings for the past two years.  You can't back off,? Powell said.  You always have to be focused on looking for ways to improve.  We have a tough schedule, but even if we didn't travel, our schedule would be great.  When you look at the number of outstanding teams within a half hour's drive of each other, each week there are some of the nations best team competing against each other. And he has to do it with the heaviest teaching load he's ever had on his shoulders in his 22 years of teaching.  A Health and physical Education teacher, Powell is in the classroom seven out of the day's eight periods, with more than 30 students in each class.  

As a coach, I do the same thing in a rebuilding situation that I did last year,? he said.  You gear your practices to your best kid.  Our kids know what they have to do to compete at the next level.  You're not going to be at the top three or four in the nation every year in a public school.  But our kids have great learning attitudes. Powell was born in the Valley, but his father, who was in the US Navy, was transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yards.  There Steve attended high school and college, graduating from Henderson High School and later from West Chester State College.   He has been back in the Valley ever since.  It isn't hard to see why.  How big is wrestling in the Valley?  It's more than the best media coverage in the nation, where most major dual meets take place in front of cable television cameras and radio microphones, as well as plenty of print media. It's more than the overflow crowds which often result in closed-circuit television feeds to auditoriums or cafeterias when the gymnasium is full.   It's the ultimate family sport.  Wrestling is ingrained in families here,? Powell said."This is a blue-collar community and there's a strong work ethic.  People live their entire lives in this area, and they grow up loyal to their team.  People here have a lot of pride in high school athletics.  You take the average wrester on my team and chances are his brother, father, uncles, and all his buddies wrestled.  And after he gets out of school, his sons will wrestle years from now.  It just gets passed from generation to generation."   The pride also extends to the community.  When Easton had a parade last summer to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Easton Fire Department, the wrestling team rode the fire truck that led the parade. What else would you expect from the Valley?  


Wrestling -- Jeff Buxton
Blair Academy - Blairstown, New Jersey
Although his impact on Blair's success and his place in the history of Blair's rich 84 year-old tradition of wrestling are definitive, Buxton is better known around campus as a complete educator. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Buxton teaches three upper level math courses and is also an academic monitor for the postgraduate class. He has made it a hallmark of his coaching to emphasize not only excellence on the mat but in the classroom and the community as well. Currently, there are approximately 40 former Blair wrestlers who are competing in college. Even though Blair's high school team has recently experienced several successes at the highest level, winning has never been at the center of Coach Buxton's teaching. Instead, he does everything he can to maximize the efforts of each individual as well as the opportunities available to each of his student-athletes; winning is simply a result of those efforts.  Motivated by a true love of wrestling and kids, Buxton puts countless hours into his work outside of the "regular"? wrestling season. In the spring and summer, he works several camps and clinics in New Jersey as well as around the country. Another spring-time habit of his is to take van loads of wrestlers (both from Blair and other local athletes) around the northeast to compete in post season tournaments. Whether he is talking on the phone to parents or college coaches for hours at a time (it is widely believed that this is truly how he acquired cauliflower ear) or giving a student one-on-one instruction, Jeff Buxton does whatever he can to help the kids and the sport that he loves. Buxton's first head coaching job was at Chariho High School in Rhode Island where his teams compiled a 24-5 record over two years.

In 1982, he came to Blair Academy as a math teacher, assistant wrestling coach to Bob Latessa and head lacrosse coach. In 1984, Buxton was named the first co-head coach in Blair wrestling's history. He took over sole responsibility as the head coach in 1991 when Latessa moved on to become the assistant coach at Lehigh University. Since being named co-head coach 19 years ago, Buxton has led Blair to as many National Prep team championships, and coached 61 individual National Prep Champions to a total of 79 individual titles. Although he has maintained and expanded the opportunities for the college program that has long been established as a trademark of Blair wrestling, he has also broadened the scope of the high school team. The skill level of the athletes on the high school team this past year ranged from novice wrestlers to Prep National champions, and the success of the team has grown on all levels. Again, it is Buxton's emphasis on opportunities for students within the sport that has made it possible to see to the needs of such a wide range of athletes.  Raised in Satellite Beach, Florida and later Hope, Rhode Island in a family of 6 brothers and 3 sisters, Buxton was an outstanding three-sport athlete at Providence Country Day School where he earned a total of 13 varsity letters in football, wrestling, and lacrosse. In 1975, he was a National Prep Champion in wrestling and was named the Rhode Island Athlete of the Year, capping four undefeated seasons as a wrestler. Recently, Buxton was recognized for his high school athletic achievements as he was inducted into Providence Country Day School's Athletic Hall of Fame. Following high school, he matriculated to the University of Rhode Island on a full wrestling scholarship where he was a qualifier for the NCAA tournament on a team that was regularly in the top twenty of the country (Rhode Island has since dropped wrestling). Known for an unconventional and tenacious style, Buxton continued competing after college and was the Outstanding Wrestler in the 1980 Northeastern Regional Olympic Trials (he did not compete in the final trials).  Jeff Buxton has two children; a son, Tony, and a daughter, Siena.  


Wrestling -- Benny Coleman
Choctaw High School - Choctaw, Oklahoma
There aren't many schools competing, but life on the wrestling mat may not be more competitive anywhere in the nation than in Oklahoma's Class 5A.  Oklahoma's biggest enrollment division in wrestling includes less than 30 schools, but there are few easy marks among them.  Broken Arrow, Midwest City, Del City, Muskogee, Lawton.  The list goes on and on.  Next year, traditional Class 4A powerhouse Tulsa East Central moves up to 5A to join them.  And then there's Choctaw.  Choctaw wasn't always one of the state's powerhouses.  The traditional strength of the class lay in those other schools.  Since Benny Coleman arrived, things at Choctaw have changed.  Maybe it was the desire to bring the school that he attended into the state's wrestling elite.  In any case, a lot of things came together, and quickly. Choctaw won double Class 5A state team titles, both in the dual and the individual state tournaments in 1994 and 1997.  Having guided his from the pack into Oklahoma's wrestling elite; Coleman says he's just trying to survive in an extremely competitive atmosphere.  The coaches here are all very competitive,? Coleman said "There's a lot of pride, and everybody is trying to do what's best for their program.  It keeps everybody on their toes and motivated to succeed at a high level.  Many of the coaches are involved year round.  We have a lot of tradition here in Oklahoma, but we don't have a real population, so that's one way our kids can stay at such a high level."

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