Tony J. takes new twist in wrestling

THOSE who follow wrestling in the slightest bit — and even some who don’t — know one name quite well.

He’s the elite of the elite when it comes to northeast Ohio wrestling, reaching levels no one has seen before or since. His style was more than exciting — it was transcendent to a point that kids 10 years later are still trying to mimic his way of winning.

There was no one like Tony J.

That’s Tony Jameson for those unfamiliar to the sport. He is a former four-time state champion from Austintown Fitch who graduated in 2008. The only four-time champ in Mahoning Valley history (one of 16 to do it in OHSAA history at the time he graduated) is back in the area — but now he’s trying to win in another way.

The 28-year-old is taking over the Poland wrestling program. While he has been running a wrestling club on his own for about two years, this is his first true coaching job at any level.

“I was training kids, but I wasn’t allowed to sit in the corner,” he said of being a club coach. “So, it’s a different feeling.”

Coaching is a different challenge altogether for Jameson.

He was so gifted as a wrestler he often made even the best opponents look silly. It was like they played checkers while he played chess. His acrobatic, high-risk, high-reward moves made him a joy to watch, and while injuries and mistakes cut his college career short at Ohio State University, his legend as a wrestler hasn’t faded.

That’s part of the reason his hiring is so intriguing, but it also brings about questions. Can he actually teach such a unique style to others? Can someone who the sport seemed to come so easy to have the patience to teach beginners?

Jameson isn’t worried about those concerns. He’s already been teaching kids of all ages for the past two years, and he’s ready to take the next step.

“I struggled with that from day one,” said Jameson of which moves to show at practices. “Area kids, they’re not lifers (of the sport). If they are, they’re few and far between, so it’s kind of hard to get kids on the same page to show what you want anyways. You kind of just have to feel everyone out. I think my best quality, personally, is to see what each person needs individually and being able to break it down for their technique.”

His situation at Poland also is unique. The Bulldogs have yet to make their wrestling program an official high school sport. It’s viewed as a club sport, so all the expenses — tournament entry fees, uniforms, equipment, etc. — must come from fundraisers by the team.

That is something Jameson hopes he can change. His name alone has brought quite a bit of excitement to the program, which enjoyed some excellent seasons under former coach Tony Stellato before a few down years. Jameson is hoping to not only reassert the team from a wrestling standpoint, but his goal is to form a stronger alliance with the school and community.

He hopes to accomplish that the same way he won his four state titles.

“If you’re asking these kids to make goals as wrestlers, you should be making goals as a coach,” he said. “If that’s a goal you have, to make it a school sport, then you need to believe like these kids do to get what you want.

“Your goals and how hard you drive toward them should not stop when you’re done wrestling. If you’re done learning and trying to make yourself better, there’s no reason for you to show up to work. With all that wrapped up into it, if you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen, and once again, I have a lot of experience in that area, so I think that’s something we’re going to address at some point and that hopefully comes to fruition.”

If nothing else, Jameson is saying all the right things, but can he make it happen?

The wrestling part seems obvious. Jameson lived and breathe the sport for most of his life. He probably forgot more techniques, holds and moves than most coaches know. Plus, Poland has always produced great athletes, so with Jameson’s knowledge, and if he applies the attitude he spoke of to coaching, the Bulldogs will flourish.

The hard part will be building a program. Stellato sent four wrestlers to the state tournament just a few years ago, and the Bulldogs were one of the top teams in the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League at one point, but wrestling remained a club. It’s not easy to hire assistant coaches and provide the necessary resources for a team when funding is so limited.

If the notoriety generated by Jameson’s hiring does indeed result in an influx of wrestlers at the high school level, that’s when a change in the sport’s status can come. Individual success of a few wrestlers isn’t enough. Jameson and the Bulldogs need numerous families asking for a change.

In other words, sometimes even the loudest voice can fall on deaf ears, but the roar of a crowd always seems to echo. Jameson has created plenty of roars in his day. I’ll bet he can induce a few more.

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