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Lafayette Jeff wrestlers trying to live up to strong tradition
January 22, 2014Lafayette Jefferson High School
Tradition is a big deal at Lafayette Jeff.
Visitors entering the Crawley Center athletic complex are greeted by numerous trophies and a picture of Marion Crawley, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who won two state championships with the Bronchos.
Go further inside Crawley Center and a small room contains the legacy of a hidden Lafayette Jeff tradition. Wrestling coach Tom Miller is doing everything possible to live up to the standards set by his coach, program founder Norm Willey.
Since Willey launched the program in 1947, the Bronchos have had 13 individual state champions, more than 50 state qualifiers and two state runner-up teams.
“Nobody really knows that,” said Miller, who has a sketch of Willey hanging above his desk in an office he shares with the volleyball staff. “There’s been great tradition. We’ve had some other coaches come in here and do a wonderful job, Steve Moriarty and Bill Andrew, who really kept it going and had a state champion. We’ve tried to build on those things and talk about the legacy of the program.”
Ryan McCoy, one of three seniors on this year’s team, is well aware of Lafayette Jeff’s wrestling tradition. His grandfather, former Lafayette fire chief Jeff McCoy, wrestled with Miller in the 1960s.
The younger McCoy transferred from Frontier this year in hopes of facing better competition at a bigger school.
“It was a slow transition,” said, McCoy, who wrestles at 152 pounds. “I came from a school of about 100 people to 2,000.
“Wrestling … means something to me. I’ve been wrestling for five years now, and there’s a lot more competition in this school than there had been at Frontier.”
Miller was grateful to gain McCoy, who filled a void in the middle weight classes. After struggling through the Holiday Duals, McCoy is getting back into form just in time for Saturday’s Hoosier Crossroads Conference meet at Jeff.
McCoy and senior heavyweight DeeAndra Venters have been welcome additions to a team that is determined to regain the sectional championship in a few weeks.
Venters returned to the program after skipping his junior season. Mainly a football player, Venters didn’t realize how much he would miss wrestling.
“When I came back this year, I quickly realized it was difficult and there were a lot of things I missed,” Venters said. “I really missed the brotherhood. We’re really close on the wrestling team. We spent a lot of time together, especially on the trips on the bus. We do a lot of talking and have fun. We’re a family.”
If Miller is the head of the Lafayette Jeff wrestling family, then senior T.J. Robinson is the eldest son.
“T.J. is the constant of our seniors,” Miller said. “He’s been there for four years. He’s gotten better each year. He’s a quiet leader. I’m really happy with the way T.J. has performed. He wrestles really hard on his feet and never gives up. He goes 100 percent all the time.”
Robinson, who takes a 25-8 record at 138 pounds into the Hoosier Crossroads Conference meet, takes his leadership responsibilities seriously.
"I would say there’s lots of stress on me now,” Robinson said. “Knowing this is my senior year, I’ve had lots of stuff to do. I’ve been a leader of this team and it’s been more important than my success individually. It’s not just me, it’s the team. If I can be a better leader, what’s to say four years down the road our team can’t be better than what it is now?
“I just love how coach Miller hammers it on the kids that tradition is important. That tradition helps us when we’re on the mat. I think it’s good, and it really helps for down the road for the kids to grow in the sport.”
Well aware that No. 14 Avon and No. 18 Westfield are favorites to win the conference title, Robinson hopes to lead the Bronchos to at least a runner-up finish. But a bigger goal is in his sights.
"We really need to get sectionals this year,” Robinson said. “We need to get the championship this year. I’ve been working hard on these kids.”
Miller would like to claim the final HCC championship before Lafayette Jeff, Harrison and McCutcheon move to the North Central Conference next year.
"We’re excited to get in and compete and see if we can do better than we did last year,” Miller said. “One final shot at it, and hopefully we will excel.”