Niagara Gazette —
A Niagara Frontier League championship is a bit of a rarity at Lewiston-Porter.
Through no fault of its own, the school is at a disadvantage in league play, simply by being the smallest school in the league.
"It's hard being a small school in the NFL," Lew-Port wrestling coach Jon Hoover said. "Our whole school is somebody else's graduating class."
Every season is an uphill battle for the Lancers, which makes the wrestling team's co-championship this season — its first share of the title since 1993 — very impressive.
What's more impressive is how the team got there.
Twelve years ago, with Hoover taking the helm for the first time, the school's varsity wrestling program helped found the Lew-Port Wrestling Club in an effort to encourage children as young as 8 years old to get into wrestling.
The club, while unaffiliated with the school, uses the school's gym and equipment for training.
This year's championship is evidence of its success. Senior leaders Dan Reagan and Ben Carella each started their careers at the club, where they learned the basics of wrestling.
"One of our goals ... wasn't just to make a run at a championship, but to sustain (success) year after year and continue to go after the title," Hoover said. "And it started with our youth program. They're doing the same thing on the youth program that they do at the high school level, we can focus more on fine tuning guys instead of having to teach them."
"Over the past two or three years, we've started to see (the club wrestlers) coming up through varsity," L-P athletic director Scott Townsend added. "It's done wonders for our program."
Hoover also credits assistant coaches Dave Hockenberry, Mike Antonelli, Josh Souta and Bill Edwards, who now runs the club, with pouring themselves into the program.
Their continued success — along with that of the club — could go a long way to making the Lew-Port wrestling team a perennial contender.This is the debut of Gazette reporter Mike Meiler's weekly high school sports column. Respond to him on Twitter @mikemeiler or by email at email@example.com.