By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Jerry Brady initially moved from being being the wrestling coach at Lakeside Middle School to being the coach at the high school in order to continue spending time with his son, Nick.
“When my kid was younger, he played travel basketball,” Brady said. “I was a wrestler. One day, I took him over to the Edgewood youth wrestling program and he liked it. The only reason this means so much to me is my kid is in it. I want to be part of his growing up. I want ot make sure he gets what he needs. I think I have something to offer the kids in terms of life lessons.
“If I get the chance to spend time with my son and his buddies, I’m willing to put the time in.”
What developed is that Brady has taken in a team full of kids and given them all the same opportunities he’s wanted for his own kids.
“I treat them the same and give them the opportunity and let’s see what they’re made of,” Brady said. “Some of them will stay home. Others will take advantage of the opportunities and make make the most of it. I’ve been fortunate in my life and I can help other people. I think that’s what life’s all about.”
Brady has taken the Dragons, who had been known as a group of good individuals, and turned them into more.
In the process, he became the Star Ashtabula County Coach of the Year.
“Everything I did this year was focused on team building,” Brady said. “In the past at Lakeside, Ashtabula and Harbor, we haven’t had a storied program. When we’ve had individuals with talent, we’ve nurtured that talent. I was a Division I wrestler and had one go round as coach.
“I quit to raise my kid for 10 years. Now that I’m back in, I’m trying to make the most of it. Part of that is trying to create a team atmosphere at the youth, junior high and high school levels.
“We want it to feed us every year so we don’t have to start over, so we don’t have to wait 10 years for a great team. We can have that year after year after year. We’re trying to build from the ground up so we can just replenish from the lower levels.”
Having kept an eye on the program over the years, Brady knows where the team once was and where he’d like it to go.
“I’ve known what we lacked,” Brady said. “We had kids who worked hard and gave it everything they had, but it was a lack of enough wrestlers in the room to help us at the end of the season. What I’m trying to do is put it all together.”
Building the Lakeside high school program is only part of what Brady is trying to accomplish. He’s also trying to build the youth levels, and not just for Lakeside, but others, as well.
“One year, I took a lot of the junior high kids to Ken Chertow’s training center near Penn State,” Brady said. “We did that 12 weekends for a year. Since moving to the high school, I’ve rented out a facility and we have three full-size mats.
“We’ll keep it open three to five nights a week and try to fill it with kids. We’ll give them a place to go where they don’t have to drive 45 minutes to wrestle. I was there Monday and there were about 20 kids from Geneva, Edgewood and Ashtabula, mostly in the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade levels. What has made programs like Edgewood, Mentor, Madison and Riverside great over the years has been the willingness of the alumni to come back pass on the traditions. Brady would like to build that type of system.
“One of the things we’ve lacked is alumni,” Brady said. “Mentor has eight or 10 guys coming back to help. That’s one of the things we lack in this program.”
Brady can safely say he’s had a good start to building his program. The Dragons were 18-6 in dual meets this season.
“We had a mix of a couple seniors who are very talented student-athletes,” Brady said. “We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores and we were able throw in a guy like Kyle (Conel, who was 46-1 and a state runner-up as a junior).
“Every single time we step on the mat, we drill the basics. We do that every single day. I’m trying to teach them to beat the hell out of each other without actually having them beat the hell out of each other. We’re teaching them competitiveness.
“We go in every day and work to improve every single day. We go over what they do wrong and what they’ve done right. Sometimes, it hurts, but we’re not going to let it discourage us. We do our best to keep the spirits up.”
Brady’s work, however, has just begun.
“At the banquet, we sang Chuck (Morgan’s) and Kyle’s praises. We sang Keith Griffin’s and Tyler Newsome’s praises. We told them how wonderful the season was. And we told them we expect them to be back on the mat tomorrow.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.