Batavia wrestling coach Stewart is D3 Coach of the Year
When Rick Stewart took over the Batavia wrestling team in 2002-2003, there were only six kids on the roster and the city had very little interest in the sport.
But Stewart started a youth program and recruited some good athletes that had the potential to be good wrestlers. Now there are 27 wrestlers listed on the roster and the Blue Devils ended the season with an 18-6 record.
Stewart was named Monroe County League Division III Coach of the Year this week because of the record-setting year for the program.
"It is nice being recognized for the year that we had," Stewart said. "It isn't just me, it's the entire coaching staff. Kenny (Darch) was as big a part of this as I am. This is a team thing here. I was kind of surprised when I found out we were given the award."
It really has been an amazing year for Batavia as the team had a Monroe County League champion in Nick Lazarony for the first time in 23 years and both he and Ryan Darch repeated as sectional champions last weekend.
"This group of kids we have now, I have to thank Kenny for that," Stewart said. "They came up through the youth program and Kenny grabbed these kids and got them into wrestling. He was down coaching modified and he came up with them. He's a big part of this class."
But winning was far from the norm when Stewart became coach.
With just six wrestlers on the roster, wins were impossible and it looked like the sport was on the verge of being dropped at the school because of a lack of interest.
"We started with just six kids and we had very little success," said Stewart, who is a 1996 graduate of Batavia that finished his wrestling career with a 117-16 record. "We had six tough kids with Bobby Darch winning sectionals and Rich Lovria and Brian Greening. We had tough kids, but not a lot of them. We were going into dual meets knowing we weren't going to win. It was an individual sport then. Now it is a team thing."
Getting the young kids involved is how Stewart is going to keep the program growing and hopefully produce more sectional champions in the future. The kids in the youth program get to work with the top wrestlers on the varsity squad.
"The youth program we are running has 36-37 kids from ages five through 11," Stewart said. "We have some good athletes out there and seeing Batavia wrestling doing so well is going to spark more interest. Hopefully we can keep replenishing the youth and keep a nice feeder program going."
A total of nine Batavia grapplers are going to be competing in the SuperSectionals this weekend at Rochester Institute of Technology. That is the highest number the school has ever sent to the event and there are several wrestlers with a chance to move on to the state tournament.
Those numbers show why Stewart won the award, and shows the progress Batavia wrestling has made since he became coach.
"This is the most amount of kids Batavia has ever sent to Supers and we have high seeds and kids with a legitimate shot to go to states," Stewart said. "There are vetarans like (Josh) Mase, Darch, (Troy) Ireland, (Anthony) D'Aurizio, Lazarony and (Dylan) Goodsell as well as the younger kids like (Will) Ely that are going to get good experience wrestling at this level. They are getting a taste of the big show and they know they can get there based on this week's performance."