TOLEDO — Imagine showing up to practice every day, and you are the only wrestler in the room.
Imagine going to wrestling tournaments, and you are the only wrestler on the team.
For Toledo’s Hunter Lewis, he was the first youth wrestler to restart the Boomers program four years ago, becoming a reference point for Toledo wrestling moving forward.
“Toledo High School hadn’t had a wrestling team in several years. We restarted the youth team a few years before with about 10 kids. Hunter was one of them,” Boomers head coach Tony Blomstrom said. “Hunter was the first we handed up to the high school, and Coach Rick Russell, who had just recently left the Newport wrestling program, took on the task of building a program in Toledo.”
It all started with Lewis holding down the fort per se, but it wasn’t easy. In fact, it was difficult.
Lewis didn’t have a partner in the room to wrestle, and he showed up to wrestling tournaments alone. But that didn’t stop the freshman from becoming a mainstay and example for Toledo wrestling.
“It was definitely hard to stick with it, but I just love the sport, and I couldn't give it up. I’ve had feelings where I wanted to quit, but we’ve had success, so that has driven me to continue,” Lewis said. “I knew that if I stayed with it, then next year would be a lot different with more kids.”
Lewis eventually wrestled with many Toledo mainstays, including, Trenton Hutchinson, Ethan Ferris and Kyle Hayner, but his experience on the mat provided a boost to many of the newer wrestlers, as well.
“Hunter’s experience has been a huge help in the room,” Blomstrom said. “We have an almost even split of experienced wrestlers and brand-new kids, and the experienced wrestlers like Hunter have been instrumental in getting the new guys up to speed.”
His former coach, Russell, agreed.
Lewis’ full season as a freshman taught him many things, both as a wrestler and as a man. Russell saw something in the Toledo freshman during their season together, and he knew it was only a matter of time before Lewis became the wrestler he was supposed to be.
The struggles of having a small team were only mere hurdles for Lewis, who never gave up.
“It was hard for Hunter as a freshman, but you could tell it never got to him,” Russell said of his former wrestler. “He kind of went through the season like normal, learning as he wrestled, but he flipped the switch at districts and at state.
“He wrestled like he was capable of; he just threw caution to the wind and did what he needed to do.”
Lewis put it all together at the most important time of the year. At districts as a freshman, he had to wrestle the No. 2 and No. 3 seed, where he pinned both before heading to the state wrestling tournament. At state, he defeated the third and fourth-ranked wrestlers.
He was an unranked participant at districts but came on and proved everyone wrong.
“When I first started out in high school, I was a nervous freshman, and a lot of kids I wrestled with were four years older than me and a lot more mature,” Lewis said. “Russell is a really good coach, and he knows a lot of technique, so I trusted the moves that he taught me. By the end when districts came around, my moves were just flowing, and it was the same for state.”
For Blomstrom, Lewis’ skillset makes him a tough match for anyone in the 170-pound division.
“On the mat, Hunter is a force. He wrestles a very aggressive style,” Blomstrom said. “His amount of muscle on a long frame paired with his experience is a problem for anyone. He has a deep toolbox full of moves to help him figure out any challenge. He is one of the best, pure wrestlers I have ever watched.”
But Lewis’ growth over four years in Toledo has affected more than just his skillset on the mat. As a man, both Blomstrom and Russell saw potential in him.
They let him know early on he was going to lead the wrestling program into the future, and he didn’t disappoint.
“We prepared Hunter a lot coming into his freshman year, letting him know he was going to lead the way to rebuild the team,” Blomstrom said. “We told him to be patient as the rest of the youth club filtered up to high school. His one-on-one time with Coach Russell was invaluable, and I am sure he really enjoyed that time.”
For Russell, not only did he see something special in Lewis on the mat, but he knew what kind of person he could be as he grew and advanced throughout his life. Russell knew that Lewis had expressed an interest in working in the electric field. And judging off their experiences on the mat together, Russell knew his work ethic and overall determination would be a perfect fit in the field, so he called up a few people.
“He was interested in climbing up power poles and doing outside work, so I brought over a couple people who do that for a living. One of them was a national champion pole climber that worked for electrical people, and I think he will pursue that as a vocation.
“And the reason I can recommend them is that top-class wrestlers develop this intensity and work ethic that make them successful in whatever they try to do.”
Fast forward four years, and Lewis leads a six-man Boomers group that will be heading to the state wrestling tournament, where they look to bring home more silverware.
And despite this being Lewis’ last go around with Toledo, his contributions to the team will always be a part of the program.
“I have known Hunter since he was a little kid,” Blomstrom said. “Watching him grow into the man he is today has been pretty amazing. He is no longer the little shy kid he was when he first walked into the mat room. He’s now a confident man who is ready to take on any challenge ahead of him.”