The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 9, 2013

Harold Raker's wrestling column: Milton hosts, but can't partake

Daily Item

---- — Have you ever hosted a party in your house and, although you did all or most of the work, you were not allowed to partake?

No soup for you!

Not even one shrimp cocktail!

Mike Snyder, the coach of Milton High's wrestling team, worked all day and night last Saturday as his school again hosted the District 4 Class AA and AAA Duals.

Once again, Snyder's Black Panthers, with a record of 2-7, were not invited.

"I said to my wife before I came down (to the school), this is really tough," Snyder said

"I feel like we could have beaten some of these teams. It is tough to stomach. I guess that is what drives you crazy as a coach," he said.

Before the season started, Snyder thought his team had a chance to make it to the tournament and compete for one of the three state berths available for the first time this season.

He also knew things could go the other way, and they did.

He didn't know how his squad would fare in duals, but he knew he had four or five top quality kids who could have a good season. Those kids put a lot of work into the sport, and deserved the opportunity to compete with high-level wrestlers, he said.

"What I did with our schedule was tried to structure it around our team. You've got to be a little bit of a scientist when you're putting together these schedules, and use some craftsmanship," he said.

So what he got was a grueling early-season schedule that included duals with Mifflinburg and Lewisburg along with the Beast of the East, Hurricane (Bethlehem) and Cumberland Valley) tournaments.

Next year, he will drop the Hurricane and Cumberland Valley events, while hoping to return to the Beast, and add more duals for a team that he believes can be one of the best Milton has offered the fans in many years.

"In my eyes, I think we can come down here (to Milton) and compete for one of the top three spots. But, obviously, it will take some hard work on their part," Snyder added.

"We are not that far off," he said.

Snyder likes what he sees in the returning wrestlers as well as those in the junior high program.

Coach Steven Greenly's junior high program has 25 kids all but one of them in seventh or eighth grade and, Snyder said, they have been very competitive, as much as they have in seven or more years.

Snyder said the elementary program is also thriving. "I am excited to see that many kids back in the program. Hopefully we can keep those kids interested and build on what we have down there."

Keeping young people in the sport can be a daunting task. "This is a demanding sport. You've got to make sure as a coach a lot of times that you're building these kids up and giving them praise when they need it, being their friend sometimes and being their toughest critic other times."

But, with all of his wrestlers back from injuries that left holes in his lineup, Snyder is excited about what the Black Panthers can do in the upcoming individual tournaments.

As for the hard work, that is what Snyder has become used to seeing from, among others, his senior returning state champion, Ryan Solomon, and a much lesser known wrestler, senior James Jones.

He said Solomon, a three-time state place-winner and 22-0 this season, has been the kind of leader the younger wrestlers need. "We use Ryan as much as we can and he embraces the role," Snyder said.

Snyder said that Solomon, as good as he is, is an even better person than he is a wrestler.

Solomon and junior Ryan Preisch, who is 15-4, and a returning state qualifier, took part in the elementary registration and it allowed the coaches to point to them as examples of what you can accomplish through hard work.

Then there is James Jones, a wrestler who has worked as hard or harder than anyone and will not get a whiff of a state medal.

Jones came out for wrestling last season as a junior because he knew the tough sport would help prepare him for the military.

"I am probably more proud of him than anyone," Snyder said. "He hasn't won a match yet. He's on varsity he's going out and competing hard every match and he's yet to get his hand raised. But he's one of the hardest workers in the room and you have to admire a kid like that."

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school wrestling for The Daily Item. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.