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The Monroe Doctorine

Ted Monroe has turned L-EMS wrestling into state’s gold standard

Posted: January 30, 2014 1:40 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2014 5:00 a.m.

There may not be something in the water --- then again, maybe there is --- on the banks of the West Wateree which turns young wrestlers into champions at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School.
Nor does Leopards head coach Ted Monroe, who just completed his 11th season at the L-EMS helm, possess a magic wand or carries around a bag filled with four-leaf clovers or rabbit’s feet. Even though, it might be nice if he did.
So what has been the recipe of success of a Monroe-led program which has won back-to-back Carolina Invitational titles, three of the last four and nine of the past 12 championships in the unofficial state tournament for middle school wrestlers? The answer is not as complicated as you might think.
The Leopards’ winning formula starts at the top with the veteran of the United States Navy who oversees a group of dedicated young men who have bought into the program’s trademarks of discipline, hard work and commitment, both on and off the wrestling mat. In order that these ideals are carried out, prior to the start of each season, Monroe has all his wrestlers signe an agreement in which the parameters of being a member of the team are laid out and to which each young man must adhere.
“This team is full of kids who have their priorities right,” Monroe said while overseeing Monday’s practice, which came two days after L-EMS successfully defended its Carolina Invitational crown.
“They sign a contract with me at the beginning of the year about being a better person, being a better student and being a better wrestler … it all blends in together. Once you get somebody programmed to be successful in whatever it is that they’re doing, then everything else --- the wins and losses and the championships --- all that, takes care of itself.”
There is little room for downtime in a Leopard wrestling practice which regularly begins a few minutes past 3:30 p.m. each day and finishes at or around 5:45 p.m. In between, there is a four- to five-minute break before the whistle blows to restart practice.
Wrestling for L-EMS is not for those who tend to lose focus easily or, have other priorities which can lead them in other directions. For his part, Monroe knows being a Leopard wrestler is not for everyone. But once a seventh- or eighth-grader makes a commitment to his teammates and the program, they are expected to live up to it. Monroe said that carries over to other sports and schoolwork, as well, as it pertains to his wrestlers.
“They understand that there is a huge sacrifice that needs to be made,” Monroe said while keeping an eye on his wrestlers as they went through their drills. “I’m not the type of person who is going to hold them back or keep them from doing outside things. As an example, a lot of these guys are football players and they know when wrestling season is coming.
“We’ve had two undefeated football seasons in a row and we don’t want to take anything away from what’s going on at the time. We also have guys who are going to play spring sports at the high school and try out for jayvee baseball team and track. We encourage multi-sport athletes because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in whatever they’re doing.
“The same thing goes for their class work. Not only did Devin Wilson win a state championship for us on Saturday, but earlier in the year, he was on the A-B honor roll. Jacob Carron (a state runner-up) and Seth Branham (a state champion) are A-B honor roll students. Elijah Dixon (a state runner-up) was one point away from being on the A-B honor roll.”
Even though the Carolina Invitational, the biggest day of the year for middle school wrestlers, has passed, the Leopards still have some unfinished business left on their collective plate. Come this evening, L-EMS will host the conference championship which includes Camden Middle School, Stover and Chester. Three wins would extend the Leopards’ school-record streak of dual match wins to 55 in a row.
The Carolina Invitational championship plaques, the gaudy win streak, the state individual champions and Monroe’s recently passing the 200-win mark as the L-EMS head coach tell a story of what could be accomplished by hard work and sacrifice. As for Monroe’s association with the school and program, his arrival nearly coincided with that of former Lugoff-Elgin High School head wrestling coach Kevin Knoerr.
It was Knoerr who called on his longtime friend to look into the L-EMS job when it came open and help feed his high school program with young men who learned the basics of the sport and could be immediate contributors to the varsity and junior varsity squads. All this came about when Monroe decided to leave the Navy after four years of active duty and three more as a member of the Naval Reserve.
“There were a lot of cutbacks going on with the military about that time,” Monroe said of returning to civilian life. “The experience was great ... I wouldn’t change it for the world. But I decided that I would use the GI Bill, get my degree and come back. When I started back in school, I decided that I wanted to get into coaching.”
A two-time AAA state qualifier while wrestling at Belton-Honea Path High School, Monroe was a member of John Abercrombie 1987 AAA state championship squad. After graduating from college, he decided to follow Abercrombie’s lead. “Outside of my dad, he’s probably the biggest role model I’ve had in my life,” Monroe said of his Abercrombie.
Monroe’s first teaching assignment was a 14-week stint as a substitute teacher at an alternative school in the Upstate.  “I knew I didn’t want to do that,” he said with a smile of that experience.
Then, came the call from Knoerr who informed Monroe that L-EMS was looking for a teacher and a wrestling coach following Stephen Flynn’s departure to take a football coaching position at Newberry College. Monroe said when he arrived at the school, the foundation for wrestling success had already been established.
“The program was successful when I got here. Stephen built the program,” he said. “I think they finished third in the state once, they had a runner-up team and they had a team that was poised to win a state championship but, unfortunately for them, inclement weather shut (the Carolina Invitational) down. It wasn’t meant to be.”
Under Monroe, the Leopards have taken off and have established themselves as the stick by which middle school wrestling programs in the Palmetto State are measured. Taking bits and pieces of coaching strategy from Abercrombie, Knoerr and others while also putting his own spin on things, Monroe’s teams began racking up Carolina Invitational titles. His background in the Navy helped with training exercises.
As far as the work which a Leopard wrestler must put into the program, Monroe said that two to three weeks after the completion of the middle school season, team members will begin weight lifting a minimum of three times per week. Several of the wrestlers will take part in a youth wrestling season whose state tourney is in March. From there, some wrestlers will try out for Team Palmetto and will take part in travel wrestling competitions during the off-season.
As for the team itself, each year, Monroe said he will get a mix of seventh- and eighth-graders with plenty of youth wrestling experience. There will also be others who have never taken part in the sport before and must be coached from the ground floor up.
“With some of these guys, they’ve never stepped on a mat before. You have to start with the basics and work from there,” he said. “It’s a healthy dose of review for the older guys and introduction for the newer guys. Then, you blend it all together with a lot of hard, hard work, conditioning and transitioning from one thing into the next.
“Our practices are really tough. These kids buy into what we’re trying to accomplish.”
An affable teacher/coach, Monroe recruits wrestlers to his team by looking in on physical education classes and seeking kids “who have a little bit of strength and agility about them. Kids who are not discipline problems and even if a kid has a discipline problem, it might be someone who just needs to channel some things,” he said.
“Coach Abercrombie always said there is a state championship team walking the halls of every school. It’s just a matter of finding and identifying those kids and getting them out.”
While not shy about approaching a student to gauge their interest in wrestling, Monroe will also have his wrestlers talk up the program to their friends who might be interested in being a part of the program. Monroe, though, is the first to admit that the program and its winning ways oftentimes sells itself.
“I think the tradition is a big part of why these kids want to wrestle,” he said. “It’s not just me, it’s a product of the school and the environment. Wrestling is a cool thing to do here. We didn’t have as big of a turnout this year as we have had in the past, but what we lacked in quantity, we sure did not lack in quality which was evident with our having 16 state qualifiers.
“These kids, year in and year out, buy into the off-season stuff and the camps in the summer. They just want to be successful.”
For each of the past 11 seasons, the Lugoff-Elgin wrestling program has been more than just successful. Under Monroe, the Leopards have become the gold standard which all other state middle school teams are judged. And hearing the head coach talk after another Carolina Invitational championship, it sounds as if things might remain the same for some time since he does not plan on going anywhere, anytime soon.
“Lugoff-Elgin has been a great fit for me,” he said with a broad smile.
With those parting words, Ted Monroe returned to the wrestling mat to coach up another group of young men. It is something which appears as if he was born to do.

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