Lisbon High Coach Mark Stevens suspects this season will mark the end of Class C wrestling in Maine.
He knows Saturday will be his final Class C meet with the Greyhounds, and with his senior son, Zachary, a two-time state champion.
“It’s my last year. I’ve put in 20 years of coaching and it’s the right time. It’s been a lot of fun,” Stevens said Thursday. “I started coaching middle school wrestling when I was 29. The year Zachary was born, 1996, was my first year as head coach.”
In his 19 seasons as the varsity coach, Stevens has led Lisbon to seven Class C team titles and three runner-up finishes. The program has produced more than 30 state champions, including four-time champ Forrest Cornell (2008-11) and five three-time champs.
On Saturday at Mountain Valley High in Rumford, Zachary Stevens will try to win his third state title, competing in the 138-pound division. He won at 132 pounds last season and at 120 as a sophomore.
Zachary Stevens said some of his first wrestling memories are of traveling to tournaments where he would compete in the Pee Wee division while Mark, himself a former Lisbon High wrestler (1982 Class A 126-pound champ), would get on the mat in the adult division.
“It does mean a lot to both finish and to do good,” Zachary Stevens said. “I think we’re both ready for this meet. There aren’t a lot of words for it.”
“He wants it bad and feels like it’s his to lose,” Mark Stevens said of his son.
The Class A and Class B championships also will be held Saturday. Marshwood looks to defend its title in the Class A championships at Noble High.
What appears to be a wide-open Class B meet between defending champ Camden Hills, Western Maine champ Mountain Valley, and top Eastern teams Ellsworth and Foxcroft Academy will be held at Morse High.
The top four finishers in each weight class will qualify for the first all-state tourney next Thursday at Nokomis High in Newport. The top three at that meet can represent Maine at the New England championships.
While Classes A and B held East and West regional qualifiers last Saturday, Class C skipped the process. Last season several weight classes at both Class C regionals had five or fewer wrestlers. Plus, defending champ Foxcroft and Mt. View were elevated to Class B.
“I really believe Class C has reached its final season,” Mark Stevens said. “I welcome it. It’s probably overdue.”
Stevens said he knows many argue smaller programs will struggle and eventually dissolve if asked to compete against larger schools.
As a coach who routinely took his wrestlers to top in-state and out-of-state invitationals, he’s not buying the argument.
“If a team’s going to fold up and go away, then they’re going to fold up and go away anyway,” he said.
This is not the first time Stevens, 49, has ended a coaching stint with one of his children. The town of Lisbon’s parks and recreation director was also Lisbon High’s field hockey coach for several seasons. He retired from that after the 2010 season after coaching his daughters Amanda (2008 grad) and MaKayla (2011 grad) through their high school careers.
This year’s Greyhound team is small, with only nine wrestlers, but the coach believes up to six can be state finalists.
Stevens said it’s been an upbeat week in the Lisbon wrestling room. Several former Greyhounds have come back to wish their old coach well.
“I’ve been thanking them and they’re thanking me. I know I’m making the right decision,” Stevens said.
“It’s nice to have those guys come back,” Zachary Stevens said. “It shows that he’s a good coach and that they liked the atmosphere of high school wrestling. They must respect him.”
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org