Thursday, December 5, 2013
When his football season ended with the Class B state championship, Mt. Blue High School senior Drew Blanchet underwent surgery to repair his meniscus. One of the first people to come see Blanchet after the procedure was Bob O’Connor, his wrestling coach.
“He just wanted me to know he cared about me,” Blanchet said. “I was out seven weeks, and he kept in touch and wanted to know how I was doing.”
Now in his eighth season as Mt. Blue’s head wrestling coach, O’Connor will retire following this season. He goes out with a talented senior class, many of whom he’s coached since the days of pee wee wrestling.
“Some of the kids are my original pee wees. I’ve seen them grow up through the middle school ranks,” O’Connor, himself a 1979 graduate of Mt. Blue High School, said. “They’ve grown up with us. We’re a tight knit group.”
The Cougars will compete in the Eastern A regional championships Saturday at Skowhegan Area High School.
O’Connor is leaving the job for his faith. He was recently baptized into the Seventh Day Adventist church, O’Connor said he decided to honor his contract for this season, but Saturday meets conflict with his Sabbath day.
“I can help out five days a week and help out with the pee wees,” O’Connor said. “It’s not like I’m not going to be a part of the program.”
Of Mt. Blue’s six seniors, O’Connor has coached four — Blanchet, Khalil Newbill, Kevin Moore and Nick Hyde — since middle school. Travis Stuard rejoined the team last season after moving back to Farmington from Las Vegas, and Dalton Black joined the Cougars after transferring from Monmouth.
In some cases, that much time could make athletes tune out a coach. Not so with the Cougars and O’Connor.
“He bleeds for the sport. He doesn’t sleep for the sport. He’s all about making us better,” Moore said.
Added Blanchet: “Coach O’Connor and I have been working together since I was in sixth grade. He’s always been my main coach... He knows we’re really hardworking. He sees the best in all of us.”
O’Connor emphasizes respect and sportsmanship as much as the wrestling fundamentals, Blanchet said. As proof, Blanchet said, there’s the sportsmanship award the Cougars won two years ago.
“He’s proud of our physical accomplishments, but I think he’s more proud of that, how we are off the mat,” Moore said. “Obviously, he’s made us all better wrestlers, but he’s really focused on how we are as people. He’s really focused on our respect level for everybody.”
O’Connor named his high school wrestling coach, Tom Ward, as a major influence.
“I had shoulder surgery, so I can’t wrestle them anymore. I’m a hands-on coach, just like my coach was,” O’Connor said.
Skowhegan is the favorite going into the regional tournament, but the Cougars have a chance at the title.
“I think we can shock some people if Skowhegan slips a little bit,” O’Connor said.
“We’re always notorious for peaking at regionals,” Blanchet said.
Along with some regional individual winners, the Cougars have the potential to do well at states. Newbill, Moore, Hyde, Blanchet and junior Tyler Sennick each placed at the state meet last season.
“It’s a bittersweet year. There’s a lot of emotions,” O’Connor said. “We have a great group of kids.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242