LISBON — Soon after Mark Stevens began coaching wrestling at Lisbon High School, he received a compliment he’s never forgotten.

In 1998, his young, inexperienced team was intimidated prior to a dual meet against an experienced Mountain Valley team, which schooled the Greyhounds.

“We lost the match that night but as we were leaving, I recall what (Hall of Fame) Coach (Jerry) Perkins said to me,” Stevens recalled. “Perkins said, ‘Mark, your wrestlers have good handshakes.’ At first, I wondered if I should have been offended, but after a year or two, I realized what he meant.”

Sixteen years and dozens of awards and championships later, Stevens has achieved the ultimate recognition: He has been selected as the 2014 National Coach of the Year by Wrestling USA Magazine.

Additionally, he will be inducted in to the Maine Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame, August 2 at the Hyde School in Bath.

“What Lisbon wrestlers have accomplished in the past 17 years has been truly amazing, said Stevens, who won a state championship himself for Lisbon in 1982. “The trophies are nice but nothing compared to the unforgettable memories and experiences we shared. Those wrestlers, parents and coaches who have been a part of this journey have some great stories to tell.”

Gary Dolloff, then an assistant with Mountain Valley, eventually explained the ‘handshake’ comment to Stevens, conveying the sentiment that the Greyhounds would indeed be the team people feared in the future.

Those words came true faster than anyone from Lisbon imagined, beginning in December of 2000, when a team of “no-names” placed a close second at the McDonald’s Tourney, just shy of Class A state champion Noble.

“I recall that I wasn’t too aware of how to keep team scores that year,” Stevens said, shocked when they announced Lisbon as runners-up. “I was in disbelief, I was overwhelmed with emotion and couldn’t bring myself to go down to get the trophy.”

It was the start of historic run. Lisbon has won seven team state titles and finished second three other times while winning more than 250 dual meets. The smaller Greyhounds competed in some of the most competitive tournaments in Maine, such as the Spartan, Noble, Atlantic, Kennebunk Duals (eight-time team champions), Mid-State League and regional championships.

Since 1998, Lisbon wrestlers have won 54 individual championships and five outstanding-wrestler awards. Dozens of the team’s members have been two-time state champions, six have won three titles and one was a four-time state champion. 

Lisbon benefited from having several brother combinations and strong relationships that have been built along the way.

“It was always about building champion kids, not just champion wrestlers,” Stevens said. “Wrestling teaches kids more about themselves than most teams sports. The cornerstones of our sport are respect, character and discipline. Those kids who learned the sport in Lisbon, took home the cornerstones that would prepare them for life.”

Stevens credits his wife Gretchen and family for helping to keep life in perspective through out this journey. When Amanda, McKayla and Zach (who recently won a third state crown competing for his father) were young, all they knew was, “Daddy was gone wrestling.”

When Stevens would get home they would greet him at the door asking to see the trophies.

That continued for years, and Stevens realized that winning was now an expectation. After having finished fifth in a tough tournament out of state, oldest daughter Amanda said, “Daddy your team isn’t good anymore?”

“I realized that there was a sort of curse with the success we had,” Stevens said, “meaning it was more news when we lost than when we won. That took some time getting used to, but figured it was how our wrestling world was.”

Watching Zach win his third state title this year was a moment the elder Stevens will cherish for a lifetime.

“Not only that he won,” Stevens said, ”But that he and so many others were beginning to realize their potential in life as young men through this great sport, and that I was so fortunate to have been a part of it.”

Stevens is always quick to credit those around him for his success, including assistants Bob Earle and Ted Albasini — both of whom coached with Stevens for more than ten years. Earle, who retired in 2007, was National Assistant Coach of the Year for USA Wrestling Magazine.

“I have a lifetime of gratitude to give to Bob and Ted,” said Stevens, who also credited former athletic director Jeff Ramich, who he said  saw something in program.

“Bob was a life cheerleader, always making me feel like I am doing the right thing,” Stevens added. “When I would make a decision that was not the right one, he would gently say, ‘Coach, you sure you want to do that?’ Ted also has been one of the most selfless, committed and honest men I have known. Our families have been our backbone of our wrestling community.”


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