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Woods may be done, but he's far from finished

By MIKE PLANT Sports Editor Published: February 18, 2017 5:00 AM
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It was a risk, scheduling Waynedale for such an important match.

After all, the West Holmes wrestling team had lost five consecutive years to the Golden Bears, a program taken to new levels in the 25 seasons since Louie Stanley took over as head coach.

But Stanley's counterpart on the other side of the mat, Jeff Woods, wouldn't have wanted it any other way for the final home match of his West Holmes coaching career, which will end this season after 26 years.

The Knights wrestled as well Wednesday as they have all year. Inspired to send their coach out with a final home win, they beat the Bears 42-30.

Waynedale, certainly, has more important items on its agenda, beginning Saturday with the Wayne County Athletic League meet. And, while the Bears aren't used to losing since Stanley built them into a small-school power in this wrestling-mad state, somehow, I got the impression that the loss didn't mean as much to their coach as seeing his long-time coaching rival come out on top one last time.

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"We've known each other, my goodness, 40 years," Stanley said after the dual. The two wrestled in high school, although at opposite ends of the weight spectrum, and graduated the same year -- Woods is a 1986 Triway grad, while Stanley was a football and wrestling standout at Waynedale.

Woods came to Millersburg after a year at Fostoria, and in over 2 1/2 decades at West Holmes built a resume that includes 140 dual wins, eight sectional championships, five league titles and 19 invitational wins.

His most celebrated wrestler, Colt Sponseller, was a three-time state champion, and Woods-coached wrestlers made the podium at state 15 times.

It's surely a Hall of Fame career -- and that's exactly where he's headed. In March, Woods will be inducted into the Ohio State Wrestling Coaches Association HOF.

Woods also, Stanley told me, served as a motivating factor for the Waynedale program.

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"He's part of the reason Waynedale's as good as we are," Stanley said. "I had a choice to make years ago -- either we were gonna get crushed by West Holmes, or our program was gonna do some different things. We made the decision to do some different things because he's run a top of the line program for 25 years. We either had to work harder or get left in the dust, because West Holmes was going to leave us in the dust."

Woods is a youthful-looking 49, but said his body feels a lot older. That's what happens when you wrestle your whole life -- getting to nationals collegiately at Ashland, then giving high schoolers the ultimate in hands-on teaching throughout his coaching career.

"I can't do what I used to do," he said. "It hurts to wrestle. I don't want to be the old guy over in the corner bent over not being able to do anything."

But, as he pointed out, he will still be able to get young boys and girls pointed in the right direction in his job as principal at West Holmes Middle School. "I think I can help more kids from behind my desk, from that point of view, than I can in wrestling," he said.

After the Wednesday win, Woods' former wrestlers who came back for the match gathered in the cafeteria outside the gym at West Holmes. Included among the many well-wishers was a group from the first team Woods coached at Fostoria.

"That chokes me up, when I see these guys come back, and that's what I'll miss, the kids," he said. "To be honest, most of the guys who made it through our program turned out to be something. I really think wrestling teaches them that, and as a coach, to stand back and see them here tonight, that means everything.

"(Former WH coach) Lindy Rogers always told me 'When I was coaching, I wanted state championships,' but then he said he was most proud of the guys he coached who went on to be in professions, married, contributing members of society.

"Now that I'm at my end, he's right. He's right. I want these guys working, and married and having kids, contributors rather than detractors to society.

"But," he added with a grin, "it would be hard to do this if I didn't have some wins to go with it."

When you can combine winning with character development, you have a Hall of Famer on the mat and off. His peers will recognize him for the former, while the latter was proven by the turnout for his home finale, and that's a legacy he should be extremely proud of.


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