Blair’s first win another block in Cardinal O’Hara’s foundation

MARPLE >> By most standards, the wrestling room at Cardinal O’Hara High School is small, maybe 15 x 25-feet. At one time it was the choir room and more recently the non-descript room in the basement was used for storage.

The walls still need to be padded. There are rolled up pads strategically placed around the room to protect the wrestlers from crashing into the cinder block walls. And the team has to pull up one of the pads on the floor every day so teachers can have access to the storage closet in the room.

The important fact, though, is that there is a wrestling room at O’Hara, which means the school has a wrestling program once again and that is a good thing.

In an age where interest in wrestling appears to be on the decline, O’Hara resurrected its wrestling program after a one-year hiatus. It hasn’t been easy. There are only seven members on the team and only six of those have seen action on the mat.

The Lions have taken more than their share of lumps. The latest was a 56-3 loss to Bishop McDevitt Wednesday night that dropped O’Hara’s record to 0-5.

All five losses have been lopsided affairs largely because of the team’s lack of numbers and the inexperience of the wrestlers. O’Hara forfeited eight matches to the Lancers, which has been about the norm in dual-meet competition.

Junior Cameron Blair (182), one of just two wrestlers on the team with previous wrestling experience, pulled out a 6-5 win with an escape in the final seconds for his first victory of his career.

“I looked up at the clock, saw the match was tied with 10 seconds left and gave it all I had,” said Blair, who wrestled in middle school at Academy Park and Interboro.

Fellow junior Nick Bromley (132 pounds) is the only other wrestler with experience. Bromley wrestled for the Ridley Roughriders from the sixth to the eighth grade. Senior Joe Vu (126) and junior Will Smith (152) are the only other Lions with wins.

“All the hard work we’ve put in is starting to pay off,” Blair said. “We’re getting better.”

Yet for head coach Colin Clark, assistant Chris DiBello, and the members of the team, it’s about more than wins and losses.

“It’s special,” Blair said. “We’re part of something new. Hopefully, in a few years, the team will be better and we can look back on it with pride, that we were the ones that helped to get the program going.”

And that’s what keeps the Lions going. They look at themselves as the building blocks of a program they hope will be around for a long time.

“Pennsylvania is one of the best states for wrestling,” Clark said. “The way I see it no school should be without a wrestling program.”

The program came together rather quickly after Clark was hired as a science teacher shortly before the start of the 2016-17 academic year. He learned during his job interview with Eileen Murphy Vice, the principal, that O’Hara was interested in restarting the program.

That piqued Clark’s interest. He wrestled at Delaware Valley High School in Milford, Pa., and did some club wrestling while in college. He also coached the sport at the club level.

During a faculty meeting in September, first-year athletic director Mike Donahue asked if anyone was interested in coaching the wrestling team.

Clark and DiBello, who wrestled at The Haverford School, both threw their hats into the ring even though they knew the challenges were great. First, they had to get wrestlers and then put a schedule together.

“We managed to cram a whole lot in a short period of time,” Clark said.

Roughly 20 students initially showed interest, but that number dropped to single digits by the time practice started. Although it was too late to be part of the full Catholic League schedule, six schools agreed to add O’Hara as a nonleague match.

Just like that, wrestling was a varsity sport at O’Hara once again.

“It’s been an uphill battle, but it’s been worth it,” Clark said. “The team has doubled in size from the beginning of the year and the guys are improving every day so we’re getting there. We’re getting there.”

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