By JEREMY HINES
Warren Central wrestling coach Jim Tonte was watching a documentary on the life of South African Nelson Mandela. That documentary sparked a philosophical mantra that Tonte would use to help push his team-first mentality.
“We really adopted the term ‘Ubuntu’,” Tonte said. “To Mandela, it meant ‘I am because we are.’ Mandela talked about everyone sacrificing for the good of the people. South Africa found success because they worked together. It wasn’t about me, it was about us.”
Although wrestling is largely considered an individual sport, Tonte embraces the team aspect first and foremost. His teams have won four state titles (three with Perry Meridian and one with Warren Central). Individually, he has coached eight state champions.
With over 70 wrestlers in the program Tonte feels it is vitally important to stress the team-first mentality.
“A lot of people don’t understand or believe my philosophy,” Tonte said. “I believe in building a team and building depth. A lot say the team state isn’t as important as individual. They say you can just make one really good team. But that doesn’t make Indiana wrestling any better.
“I remember one year we got second in state and we had Nick Walpole, who was a state champion. Nick said he would trade that individual ring any day of the week and twice on Sunday for a team title. We are a family from the little kids on. You build your elementary, your middle school and you all support each other.
“I’m good at reenacting what other greats do. Mater Dei really had this same philosophy and year after year they would produce great teams because of it.”
This year Tonte is hoping his team lives up to their potential.
“From top to bottom we are as solid as we were in 2016,” Tonte said. “We aren’t as flashy as the 2016 team, but we’re as solid.”
The Warriors return three state qualifiers from last season. David Pierson finished fourth at 106, Antwaun Graves was fifth at 145 and Jarred Rowlett qualified at 132.
Four other returners were semistate qualifiers last year – Jevian Ross, Aundre Beatty, Brice Coleman and Aaron Taylor.
Sophomore Carlton Perry will likely be the Warriors’ 106-pounder. Perry is currently ranked No. 12. Pierson is ranked No. 4 at 113 pounds.
Senior Chris Stewart will be at 120 for the Warriors with Ross, a sophomore, filling the 126 varsity spot.
Ross was an All-American at the Disney Duals over the summer, just three weeks after a stray bullet came through his house, into his bedroom and struck him in the head.
“That was a freak, freak thing,” Tonte said.
Beatty, a junior, will fill the 132 spot with Rowlett, a senior, moving up to 138. Coleman will wrestle 145 for the Warriors.
Graves, at 152, is perhaps Warren’s most decorated grappler. He was a preseason national champ last season. He beat eventual state champion Jordan Slivka in the semistate and beat Kasper McIntosh, who now wrestles for the University of Minnesota, in the placement round at state.
“When Antwaun is on a roll he can beat anyone,” Tonte said. “He’s legitmate. He’s one of those kids that learns during a match. He’s very coachable. His freshman year at team state duals he had a kid named Joe Lee (Mater Dei). Lee only decisioned him. At the time, Antwaun was our JV kid. Can you imagine Joe Lee decisioning a JV kid, and at the end of the match Joe got called for stalling. I told Antwaun then that he can be a state champion.”
Graves is ranked No. 4.
Taylor will be Warren’s 160 pounder.
“He’s one of the most athletic kids I’ve ever coached,” Tonte said.
At 170 junior Damon McClane will look to make his mark in his first year as a varsity wrestler.
“Damon has been very successful during the offseason at all three levels,” Tonte said. “We’re hoping he will really surprise people this year. He was a JV guy for us last year.”
Senior James Dycus will wrestle at 182 for the Warriors with senior Nathan Bishop getting the 195 spot.
Warren’s 220 pounder and heavyweight will likely be filled by members of the state championship football team. Senior Carlos Mitchell will wrestle at 220 and either Dennis Hubbard or Alex Hernandez will fill the spot at heavyweight.
With such a large number of wrestlers, Tonte says there could be others that break into the lineup at some point in the season.
“We have guys like Jajuan Anderson as a back up at 145-152. He just All-Americaned at Iowa in the preseason nationals as a sophomore.”
Tonte said part of his strength as a coach is to emphasize to everyone that they have an important role on the team. That helps when there is so much competition for position spots.
“That’s my niche,” Tonte said. “We have to find ways for kids to stick around. If there is one thing in this sport that I’ve been pretty good at, it’s probably that. I try my best to keep kids around the program. Even the worst kid in the world is important to the program. We are going to have wrestle offs this week and we’ll have state caliber kids battling to stay in the lineup. But, in the end, they know it’s all about the team and they’ll do whatever they need to do to help the team win.”
Edited by Y2CJ41