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Headlee Looks to the Future with Waynesburg Wrestling

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After 20 years coaching in the area at the high school and middle school level, Ron Headlee moved up to take the reigns at his hometown Waynesburg University.  Following his first year off from coaching as he followed the wrestling careers of his two sons, Headlee did not plan to become a high school head coach again.  However, as Headlee tells it, “God opened the door for me to take over at Waynesburg University.”  Accepting the job in February of this year, he and John Yates, his assistant, set their first goal as filling out the roster in order to avoid the forfeits that have doomed the team in dual meets in recent years.

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With such a late start, Coaches Headlee and Yates had some catching up to do.  “We thought if we could bring in 15 wrestlers that we would be happy,” Headlee said.  Waynesburg actually has 22 new wrestlers deposited for next season as the coaching staff focused on the WPIAL, one of the toughest wrestling conferences in Pennsylvania.  Headlee continues, “Because we had such a short period of time, we focused mainly on the WPIAL.  Next year…we will be able to look for weight classes and see where we need to focus our efforts.”  This year’s recruiting haul includes a return to the mats for 2005 Pennsylvania state champ Corbin Semple, 2007 champ Jesse Byerly, and 2004 state placewinner Mark Throckmorton.

Though he has spent the last two decades with high school and middle school wrestlers, Coach Headlee is no stranger to college wrestling.  He was the first NCAA Division III All-American from Messiah College in 1982, and both of his sons spent last season wrestling for the University of Pittsburg.  Drew was a senior this past season and wrapped up a career that saw him earn All-American honors as well as a trip to the 2008 Olympic Trials.  Ethan was a freshman who qualified for the NCAA tournament in his first year of competition for the Panthers.  “It’s been a lot of fun following the Pitt Panthers and my two sons…I get more nervous watching my own sons than coaching others.”  As he followed his sons and their teammates over the past few years, Headlee gained some insights that he believes will help him as he joins the college ranks.  “I believe that a lot of wrestlers do not peak at the high school level; they just keep improving the more they work at it.  I believe (2008 undefeated NCAA Champion) Keith Gavin is a great example; he just got to the point that he believed he could not be beat.”

Waynesburg boasts a fine wrestling tradition with a streak of 30 straight winning seasons from the 1940s to the 1970s and boasted a 312-111-12 overall record from 1928 to 1975.  From 1949-1952, Waynesburg did not suffer a dual meet loss.  Over the years, Waynesburg has had numerous NCAA and NAIA All-Americans including two time NCAA champ and Outstanding Wrestler Tony Gizoni and four time All-American Mark Jenkins.  Most recently, Shawn Whyte was twice a Division III All-American in 2000 and 2001, while a year later, Ken Laird broke the school record with his 109th win.

Dual meet victories have been harder to come by in recent years as low numbers have hurt the Yellow Jackets.  Coach Headlee has plans to help reverse the recent past and return Waynesburg to its winning ways.  “We believe that we need to make sure the community and the student body gets behind our team.  Having more numbers in the room will definitely help create a more competitive attitude which should help with motivation and the desire to work hard to reach our goals.”  Along with the first of what he hopes is a long line of good recruiting classes, Coach Headlee has adjusted the schedule to better prepare the team for the end of the year.  “We open up with Division I Duquesne, have seven home matches,” no doubt part of his plan to increase community support, “[and] we have scheduled a lot of invitational tournaments to get all of our wrestlers time on the mat.”

Any rebuilding process will take some time, but Headlee believes there is enough positive about Waynesburg to attract talented wrestlers to the school.  “Our philosophy and the chance to turn a program around are a couple of the reasons [to come to Waynesburg.]”  Some of that philosophy is focused on the wrestling aspect of the team.  “Some wrestlers are very technical with great technique, while others will come at you and believe they cannot lose.”  Both clearly have a place on Waynesburg’s team, but Headlee has other ideals in mind as well.  “Overall, I would like to see the sport get back to more guys working for the fall; I think all fans love to see a pin.”  Additionally, team building will encompass off the mat activities.  “We are looking for wrestlers who want to become national champions but who are committed to getting a degree.  We are expecting our wrestlers to be community involved and have high morals.”  All aspects of building a team are what Coach Headlee believes will help turn Waynesburg into a national contender.

PAC 141 lb. champion Nick Garber is the top returning wrestler for the Yellow Jackets in 2008-2009, and he will be joined by those 22 incoming wrestlers who will have plenty of opportunity to make an impact on the Waynesburg lineup right away.  Headlee is excited for his first season as a college coach, though he admits he and his assistant have a lot to learn about college coaching.  With support from the University, they believe that they can turn the fortunes of Waynesburg Wrestling around and make the team a contender both in the Midwest Region and eventually at the national level.