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Titan Wrestling Club helping build stronger local wrestlers

by Michael Leonard Sports Editor Published: July 27, 2016 12:00 AM
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In 2012, Don Lorence was at the peak of his powers as the head wrestling coach at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy

In nine years at CVCA, Lorence built the Royals from a tiny team into a small-school powerhouse. At the end of his tenure, CVCA had a full team, producing state champions, All-Ohioans and top five team finishes with regularity.

At that point, however, the Crestwood graduate felt he needed a new challenge.

"There's never a perfect time to leave as a head wrestling coach," Lorence said. "It was a lot of sleepless nights for me. It was 10 years of all in for me when I was [CVCA] coach. My wife, Christine, was so attached to the program, she did not want me to step down."

Lorence did step down -- but stepped into a new challenge and a new way to support the Northeast Ohio wrestling community that he loves.

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With "a lot of elbow grease" and the aid of a lot of volunteers, Lorence helped refurbish and clear an old car shop, located at 3011 Pioneer Trail in Mantua Township, just over the border from Aurora.

The idea was to start year-round wrestling club, whose doors would be open not only to top-level wrestlers, but to youth and high school wrestlers of all abilities.

The big question: Would the idea work?

"That added to the sleepless nights," Lorence said. "Eight out of 10 businesses fail within a couple years. It's the same challenge I had at CVCA when I took over and they had five wrestlers."

Fortunately for Lorence, the answer was "Yes."

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"We had a boat load of kids come out," Lorence said. "We had a lot of good clinicians and ton of guys were able to help us out. The network of wrestling guys I knew helped make it happen."

Titan Wrestling Club was born. Four years later, Lorence's labor of love is still going strong, while maintaining its mission.

"This place is half a mile from my house," Lorence said. "I wanted to spend more time with my family [after CVCA] and this lets me."

TWC also allows Lorence to carry on a family tradition, as the Lorence clan is one of the backbone families of Portage County wrestling.

"I'm using a lot of the same coaching style I learned from my dad, Don Lorence Sr," Lorence said. "He had his own wrestling club and we would be taking trips to Michigan and Pennsylvania to get better."

Simple facility,

simple philosophy

The Titan Wrestling Club might not look like much at first glance.

The blue metal building and gavel parking lot appear rather Spartan.

However, Lorence notes the facilities have been improved to include a kitchen and a full-size football field on the four-acre property on Pioneer Trail.

Lorence is quick to praise the efforts of Bill Danforth, TWC's assistant director of operations, for helping the club run smoothly.

Danforth has been with TWC from the beginning, as he does "pretty much anything but coach the kids."

"I can't coach. I wasn't a very good wrestler, but I can cook," Danforth said. "I can do everything else."

Lorence notes Danforth's lunch menu often draws rave reviews during wrestling camps.

TWC's kitchen includes a full barbecue smoker -- which Danforth often puts to good use for the club's favorite lunch: Pulled pork.

Danforth also serves as travel agent for TWC's trips to national tournaments, which are a fixture of the club's calendar.

The biggest events TWC participates in are the NHSCA National Duals in Virginia Beach, Va., which take place over Memorial Day weekend, and the AAU Scholastic Duals -- better known as the "Disney Duals" -- which take place in Orlando in June.

This year, Danforth noted TWC took six teams -- three of which were elementary school squad -- and more than 100 wrestlers to Virginia.

"They don't have to be all-stars," Danforth said. "They just go there to have fun. For Disney, we take three teams, but two of them are developmental squads."

Lorence said encouraging kids of all abilities is a key.

"There's a nervousness to a kid that shows up at a wrestling camp on Monday for the first time," Lorence said. "By the second day, he's having so much fun, he's asking to come back next year.

"It's the same thing when you're asking him to go to Disney Duals to fill a spot the first time," he added. "He looks at you like 'You're crazy.' He's like a deer in a headlights. By the second day, he's trying to figure out which weight class he can fill for next year's team."

Danforth feels some of the best moments within club happen for those wrestlers not in the top flight.

"A lot of the guys have the perception that these clubs are only for the all stars," Danforth said. "This is for everybody. It doesn't matter if it's a first-year wrestler or a returning state champion."

That's not to say TWC hasn't had success. Titan's "Scarlet" team won the 2015 NHSCA National Duals and the club has brought home trophies each of the last four years in the Developmental Division.

Ohio state champions like CVCA's Nate Tomasello and Warren Howland's Gabe Stark are just a few who have grappled on TWC's mats.

Still, Lorence makes it clear he gets a kick out of all his wrestler's achievements.

"I used to tell my guys at CVCA, I get just as much as satisfaction in seeing a guy like Nate Tomasello win a state championship as I do seeing a junior varsity kid win his first varsity match," Lorence said.

Dedication

equals success

On warm morning July 19 at the Titan Wrestling Club, about 30 wrestlers of various ages are hitting the mats.

Chagrin Falls High School head coach Victor Puskas leads takedown drills. Puskas is one rotating cadre of coaches that helps TWC's many campers.

Campers can expect to deal with Aurora assistant coach Johnny Papesh or Baldwin-Wallace University's Josh Decatur -- a former CVCA pupil of Lorence's -- during a typical week.

Puskas noted this was the first time he's helped coach at TWC, but was happy to do so.

"I've known coach Lawrence for a long time," Puskas said. "He's such an ambassador for the sport."

"This is what it takes to get the edge," he added. "Great wrestlers work in the summer. The more time you put in, the more you're going to get out. It's a matter of getting them in here. You've got to have to fun, too."

Lorence echoed Puskas' sentiments.

"A lot of wrestlers will talk about they want to get better," Lorence said. "You've got to put in some work in the offseason. Hit a camp or two. Get some work in with other kids to get a new perspective."

"I love that you can mix fun with hard work and wrestling," he said. "It's such a grinding sport. You can have fun."

True to that mantra, the camp's morning session ended with a spirited game of dodgeball, followed by a flag football contest.

Information and registration fees for TWC's camps, tournament trips and open gym sessions can be found at www.titanwrestlingclub.com. While summer camps usually run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday, Lorence notes some campers bring sleeping bags and stay overnight at the club.

Titan's growing reputation has drawn in wrestlers from well beyond Lorence's familiar territory of Portage, Summit and Geauga counties.

"We've got kids from Ashtabula to Massillon to Sharon, Pa. to Cleveland," Lorence said.

Being an open club helps TWC, as the club hosts open gyms before, after and even during high school wrestling season.

"You're allowed to go work out, no matter what age you are, anywhere you like," Lorence said. "I'm not a high school wrestling coach anymore, so I'm glad to help. They're here and they're working hard during the season."

All of which helps keeps wrestling a lifer like Lorence in tune with the sport he loves.

"This is it," Lorence said. "I'm all in."

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9442

Facebook: MLeonardRPC

Twitter:@MLeonard_RPC


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