By JEREMY HINES
LeVon Bellemy isn’t running – he’s surviving.
He’s surviving a life growing up in one of the most dangerous parts of the country, Davenport, Iowa – part of the notorious Quad City area. He’s surviving a life where his family either ends up in prison or shot – and sometimes both. He’s surviving, because that’s what he does.
He’s not running, he’s fighting. He’s fighting to show a person can overcome circumstance. He’s fighting to show there is hope. Sometimes the greatest warriors are the ones that can travel the more difficult road and escape their demons. That’s what Bellemy is doing – and that’s how he ended up in Ellettsville, population 6,677.
When asked what he is trying to overcome, Bellemy says simply “everything.”
Bellemy’s story is a unique one. His athletic ability has saved him time and time again back in Davenport, as has the guidance of family, particularly his uncle Clyde Mayfield. Uncle Clyde gave LeVona job in his health food store – and he made sure LeVon knew the value of hard work and discipline. Under Clyde’s direction, Bellemy excelled in school and athletics.
In Davenport, with a crime rate 116 percent higher than the national average, hard work and discipline wasn’t quite enough. When LeVon's brother was shot in May, something had to change. That’s when his cousin, Pauli Escebedo stepped in and offered Bellemy an escape. LeVon moved to Ellettsville to live with Pauli and her husband, Indiana wrestling coach Angel Escebedo.
“They have been great to me,” Bellemy said. “Angel is a good guy who is trying to better me. He lets me know what I’m doing wrong and right.”
When Bellemy moved to Indiana, sports were an afterthought.
“I was focused on getting out of there and finding something better,” he said. “Things got hectic at home, and very bad for me there. I wasn’t worried about football or wrestling. I was worried about getting out.”
Bellemy has made an immediate impact on Edgewood High School. As a star running back he rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 27 touchdowns this season. Edgewood improved from 3-7 last year and 1-9 the year before that to finish with a record of 8-4 in 2018.
“I can’t think of a more opposite place for LeVon to land,” Edgewood wrestling coach Greg Ratliff said. “He’s going from Davenport to Ellettsville. It is a small town. Everyone knows everyone else. The second LeVon got here the rumors started swirling about who he was. Everyone wanted to meet the new guy.
“Both the wrestling and the football team got to know him quickly and made him feel at home. We let him know that here, he is family. He has fit in extremely quickly.”
Football is Bellemy’s first love. He’s getting Division I college looks and plans to play at the next level. But, Bellemy is also a gifted wrestler.
Bellemy wrestled as a freshman in Iowa, but then decided to try his hand at basketball as a sophomore.
“I hated basketball,” he said. “I knew I had to go back to wrestling. Wrestling is football without the ball. It helps you so much with football, as far as mentally and physically. Mentally you are the toughest kid on the block if you wrestle. Wrestling gets your mind right. It teaches you not to give up. Physically, with the double leg and the driving through people, it helps you tackle and run over people.”
Bellemy returned to the mat for his junior season. He ended up placing seventh in Iowa’s biggest class in the state tournament.
“My goal in Indiana is to win state,” Bellemy said. “That’s my only goal in wrestling. I’ve been doing my research. I’ve been studying the competition.”
Ratliff can see that happening.
“He is a pure dynamite athlete, honestly,” Ratliff said. “I got to see a little bit of him wrestling this summer. Sometimes I was thinking, man, this kid is wrestling against LeVon well, but then I would look at the scoreboard and see LeVon would be up 10 points or more. He’s explosive. I’m yelling for him to just get an escape before a period ends, and before you know it he’s getting a reversal and nearfall points.”
Daily life in Ellettsville is a lot different than what Bellemy was used to in Davenport.
“The thing to do here is to sit in the IGA grocery store parking lot and talk,” he said. “That’s really the main thing we do. We sit in that parking lot for hours and talk. In the summer we will go swimming, but other than that – that’s all we do.
“Ellettsville is a small town. There is a big difference with the people and how they act. It’s a whole new atmosphere. There are no negatives around here.”
But, for as much as LeVon needed Edgewood, Edgewood has needed LeVon.
“He gets along with everyone here,” Ratliff said. “He can talk to anyone. He talks to the athletes, the band students and those not involved with anything. He is a positive influence on everyone he comes in contact with. He’s a hard worker and others see that. They see how he can overcome anything and be a success. That motivates everyone.”
LeVon didn’t run away from Davenport because he feared the fight. In fact, his family talked him into leaving because they knew that’s exactly what he would want to do – fight for his family. His family told him that to win the fight, he had to get away.
“I feel like I have to succeed,” Bellemy said. “I know the situation my family at home is still in. My only way out is through school and sports. It drives me every single day. I have nothing to do but find the best way to provide for my family and fight for them.”
By STEVE KRAH
Strength, speed and strategy have helped Victor Lee achieve success inside the wrestling circle.
Creativity and drive have allowed him to excel away from it.
The Marion grappler is hoping for even more mat achievements in his last high school go-round and a future filled with wrestling and film.
A state qualifier at 195 pounds in 2017-18, Lee is currently ranked among the top competitors at 220.
“I’m a naturally strong guy,” says Lee. “Speed is something I rely on most. I usually try to attack below the knee.”
Giants head coach Lonnie Johnson likes the way the 5-foot-11 Lee moves on the mat.
“He’s really mobile for a bigger guy,” says Johnson. “I want him to be a go-go-go guy and wear guys down. He’s in pretty good shape. I want him to pick up the pace a little.”
Lee has been working hard on his stance since last season. If he has a signature maneuver it would be his high crotch.
It’s what Ohio State University’s Kollin Moore used against University of Missouri’s J’den Cox.
“It’s a move to be feared,” says Lee, who started his wrestling career in sixth grade, grappled in the 215 class as a middle schooler and was at 195 his first three seasons of high school.
Gabe Watkins (285) and Corey Horne (152) have served as practice partners for Lee, each giving him a different look.
Lee has studied the methods of Cox, who was a bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“He has a very strategic way of practicing and coming from different angles,” says Lee of Cox. “He tries to keep his attack percentage really high. He’s not real aggressive like (Arizona State’s Zahid) Valencia.
“He’s very technical. I try to emulate that. I use hand fighting to tire the other guy out and keep his head down so all he’s looking at is the mat.”
Johnson is a 1995 Marion graduate. He wrestled at 189 his first three seasons and 215 as a senior. He has coached in the Giants system for two decades and is in his third season as head coach.
The coach has offered advice that has stuck with Lee.
“He says to always be confident in my shots, be persistent and always finish through them,” says Lee of Johnson. “Last year, he sometimes got himself in a bind with 30 seconds to go. I want him to get up on guys 10-3 or 10-4 and then stick them.
“He reminds me of Darryn Scott (who was a two-time state qualifier and placed sixth in the 2010 State Finals at 189) with his strength and his speed. (Scott) would go at you. (Lee) sits back and tries to pick you apart.”
Lee won his first sectional title and qualified for his third regional in 2018. After reigning at the Oak Hill Sectional and qualifying for his third regional. He placed second to Maconaquah’s Aaron Sedwick at the Peru Regional then third at the Fort Wayne Semistate, his first appearance there.
“I was always trying to prove myself, says Lee, who lost 6-3 to West Noble’s Draven Rasler in the semistate semifinals. Rasler then was pinned by New Haven’s Jaxson Savieo in the finals.
Lee was pinned by New Albany’s Jaden Sonner in the first round at the State Finals, but got a taste of that big stage in Indianapolis.
“I won’t be blinded by all those fans,” says Lee, who plans to be back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in February 2019. “I’ll be going to State with better confidence in my abilities.”
Besides his wrestling prowess, Lee is also a solid student.
“I’ve never had a teacher complain about him,” says Johnson. “I don’t have to worry about the attitude.
“When it comes to that he’s maintenance-free.”
Lee plans to major in drama and film and cinematography at Indiana University and hopes wrestling will also be a part of his college experience.
It’s the behind-the-scenes side of the arts that Lee appreciates most.
“I don’t do acting,” says Lee, who intends to take theater and drama classes at IU next summer. “I mostly direct and writing scripts for plays. I hope one day I can make movies.”
Lee has made a few small films on his own and has started an Instagram account with a friend that he can see leading to film production company.
Why the interest in film.
“Me and mom watched movies a lot together and it just stuck with me,” says Lee, who is the oldest of four adopted by single mother Rosalind Lee. Victor is 18, Zella 17, Levi 16 and Diamond 15.
Foster children at first, the four youngsters were allowed to choose their new first and middle names at the time of the adoption.
During his freshmen year, Javion Mack became Victor Lee.
“We try to make it easier on her,” says Victor of what he and his siblings do for their mother. “We do our chores and we all try to stay
out of the house so it’s not so cluttered.”
Levi is a 220-pound sophomore who came out for wrestling for the first time last season.
“He’s getting pretty decent at it,” says Victor of Levi. “I spar with him sometime then give him another partner so he can speed up.”
By JEREMY HINES Thehines7@gmail.com
Greenwood senior Nick Willham has won two wrestling sectional titles, been one win away from advancing to the state meet and is currently ranked No. 9 at 182 pounds – but he’s got a way to go before he can become the alpha dog at the family Christmas party.
That’s because Willham has three older cousins that have combined to qualify for the state meet 11 times, placed nine times and have a total record of 542-40. Willham’s cousins are Indiana legends Doug, Chad and Luke Welch.
“My cousins really got me started on wrestling,” Willham said. “I remember watching Luke at the state finals, and that got me going. I’ve learned so much from them. I’ve worked out with them in the summer and they have taught me everything from getting better on my feet, to my top and bottom game.”
Willham started wrestling in sixth grade. He has always had an athletic build and has excelled in sports – but things weren’t easy early on for the Greenwood grappler.
“My freshman year wasn’t too hot,” Willham said. “I was like 16-27. It was very discouraging having that losing record. I got beat up every day and when that happens you start to think you don’t want to do it anymore. It sucked. Instead of giving up, it motivated me to get better.”
Willham devoted more time to his wrestling after his rough freshman season. He worked in the offseason, went to tournaments and started developing more technique. It paid off.
As a sophomore Willham finished with a 37-12 record. He earned his first sectional championship and eventually advanced to semistate before he was beaten by Evansville Mater Dei’s phenom, Joe Lee.
Willham continued to improve his junior year. He finished 35-4, won sectional again, and this time made it to the ticket round at semistate before losing a 4-3 heartbreaker to Columbus East’s Andy Davidson.
So far this season Willham is 5-0 and is currently wrestling at 195 pounds.
“Nick has increased two weight classes every year,” Greenwood coach Jay Yates said. “We’ve cut him down a little every year. This year we’re letting him go. We’re letting him eat and letting him be strong.”
Willham has set his sights on a state title this year.
“I want to win everything,” he said. “Last year I scouted opponents a little bit, but that took the focus off of myself. This year I’m focusing on what I need to do. I am not scouting, I just want to wrestle my match.”
Coach Yates said Willham is a goofy kid that likes to joke around and have fun with the team. He gives the entire team nicknames, including the coaching staff.
“He calls me the bald eagle,” Yates said. “Obviously, because I’m bald. We have another coach named Rockwell, and Nick calls him the boulder. He even gave himself a nickname – ham.”
But, when it comes time to wrestle, Willham takes things much more seriously. He’s hoping the renewed focus and the hard work will continue to push him toward his ultimate goal – to win a state title, and possibly, be able to push his cousins around a little bit.
By STEVE KRAH
The second time around has been extra sweet for Jake O’Neill and the Wabash High School wrestling program.
O’Neil spent six seasons as Apaches head coach then four as an assistant at his alma mater — Ben Davis in Indianapolis — and is now in his second six as head coach at Wabash.
With the help of several folks, O’Neill and the Apaches have enjoyed a resurgence since he was drawn back to the northern part of Indiana.
“I like where this little school’s going,” says O’Neill. “I’m excited about it.”
“I love this community.”
Wabash has a population of about 10,000 and around 400 attend the high school.
This season, the Apaches will participate in the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association State Duals for the first time. Wabash will be in Class 1A for the Jan. 5 meet in Fort Wayne.
The Apaches’ varsity schedule also includes the Wabash County Invitational, Western Invitational, Whitko Invitational and duals with Maconaquah, Rochester, Lewis Cass, Eastbrook, Peru and Western.
“When you have rivalries and communities meet up it only only helps the sport grow,” says O’Neill. “We had a nice gym going against Maconaquah. It was a fun atmosphere.”
There are 27 wrestlers on the Wabash team.
“We have a really big sophomore group,” says O’Neill. “Quantity helps. Quality is what we’re looking for.”
In the mix are freshman Jared Brooks and sophomore R.J. Steg at 106 and 113, sophomore Ethan Higgins at 120, junior Braden Brooks at 126, junior Jaxon Barnett at 132, sophomore Anthony Long at 138, freshman Brayden Sickafus at 152, junior Traydon Goodwin at 152, sophomore Grant Carandante at 160, sophomore Justin Heckman and sophomore Bryson
Zapata at 170, senior Blake Wiser at 182, senior Luke Voirol at 195, sophomore Grant Warmuth at 220 and senior Justin Samons and junior Blake Price at 285.
Higgins and Braden Books competed in the off-season at the Freestyle and Greco-Roman Nationals in Fargo, N.D.
“They got to see guys who will be on the (IHSAA State Finals) podium at the end of the year,” says O’Neill. “Training with them all summer was definitely good for them.”
Carandante is O’Neill’s stepson. His other two children are freshman wrestler Kiersten O’Neill and sophomore basketball player Keegan O’Neill.
Upon his return to Wabash, O’Neill established the Apache Wrestling Club. It now has about 30 grapplers in grades K-6.
There are also about 20 sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the junior high program.
A wall was knocked down in the weight room to double the size of the Wabash wrestling room.
“We’re changing the culture here with the sport,” says O’Neill, who notes that the Apaches scored four points and were down to six wrestlers the season before his return. “The community is starting to see the hard work these young men and women are putting in.
“We want to continue to get kids up on that podium at Bankers Life and get kids up on our little wall of fame at school. We’ve got to aim big. That’s how I want my wrestlers thinking.”
Ross Haughn and Jimmy Olinger are coaching the elementary wrestlers and are part of a high school coaching staff which also includes Tyler Niccum, Jeremy Haupert and Isaac Ray. Ray wrestled at Hamilton Heights High School and at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., about 15 miles from Wabash.
“I have a solid relationship with Coach (Kevin) Lake (at Manchester U.),” says O’Neill. “I use my resources wisely with that.”
Chad Ulmer, who wrestled at Triton High School and Manchester U., has departed Wabash for Hendricks County, where he will serve as a probation officer and likely help coach wrestling at one of the area schools.
At Ben Davis, where O’Neill had graduated in 1995, he joined with then-Giants head coach Aaron Moss to have plenty of mat coaching success.
“We produced some pretty good wrestlers together,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill was dating a Wabash girl — Aimee — and decided to look for a job that would bring him back north. He took an interview at nearby Manchester High School.
By then, principal Jason Callahan had become superintendent of Wabash City Schools.
“(Callahan) made it happen,” says O’Neill of the former Daleville High School wrestling coach. “A job created (at Wabash) within a couple of weeks."
“He believed in me a bunch.”
Jake and Aimee O’Neill have been married for five years.
In his first tenure in town, O’Neill formed some key relationships like those with Peru coach Andy Hobbs and Northfield coach Bill Campbell (now retired).
“They put their arms around me and helped me,” says O’Neill. “I’m proud to call them mentors and friends.”
He’s also grateful to Pat Culp for her role in running tournaments at all levels around Indiana.
“She’s a blessing for everybody,” says O’Neill, who is an Indiana State Wrestling Association director for Cadets. “She encouraged us to host tournaments. She played a big rule in helping us grow this program.”
O’Neill admits that during his first tenure he was looking to go elsewhere. This time, he’s in it for the long haul.
“My first year back at Wabash, I started approaching it looking at the big picture and setting long-term goals with the program,” says O’Neill.
About that time, O’Neill discovered a move-in from North Carolina in his eighth grade physical education class.
Noah Cressell qualified for the IHSAA State Finals twice and placed third at 182 pounds in 2018 — Wabash’s first state placer since heavyweight Tim LaMar won a state title in 1999.
“That kid did a lot with helping this program grow,” says O’Neill of Cressell. “It was not just his wrestling, but his personality. He was a humble kid and everybody loved him. He was the poster boy for our program.”
Cressell is now on the team at North Dakota State University.
And the Wabash Apaches are back on the state wrestling map.