When taking over a program, it can be hard to establish a juggernaut.
That’s especially true when said program isn’t a major sport that one sees every day on ESPN or additional television media stations.
However, in his five seasons as the head coach of the Northwest Mohawks’ powerlifting program, Mark Smith was able to raise the bar significantly in a sport that doesn’t necessarily receive a great deal of press.
That was proven at the NASA Nationals Powerlifting Meet back in April, when Smith’s group collected a pair of top-five finishes in both of the boys and girls divisions within the divisional realm in a Springfield, Ohio-based meet on April 1.
For Smith, closing out his tenure by leading Northwest to top-five finishes among fellow strongholds from around the country was an excellent honor.
“It was an honor and a privilege to be able to take these kids and compete in a national meet against stout competition,” Smith said. “It gives the kids the experience of seeing what powerlifting is on the national level versus the high school level, and it gives them the opportunity to compete against adults from all over the nation. They did extremely well.”
From the time that he made his foray into the Mohawks’ powerlifting program five years ago, Smith’s goals always remained consistent and steadfast. To get the program to where Smith felt that it needed to be, the now-veteran head coach knew that he had to make some changes.
“When I came into the Northwest program five years ago, I had a timeline of where I wanted the program to be at from when I started to now,” Smith said. “First and foremost, I wanted to establish a support base for our booster program and get a foot in the door by saying, ‘Hey, we’re here, and we’re going to support ourselves.’ If the school can help, that’s great, but we’re still going to stand in here and fight our own way through it.”
Once the booster program started to formulate, Smith said that the entire program started to come together piece by piece.
“Once that got established, then things started becoming easier,” Smith said. “Then, it was just a matter of establishing rules for the program. Parents have to sign the same papers as the kids do, and if the rules are broken at any time, it’s in black and white for the parents or students involved with the program to see that the punishment does fit the crime, so to speak. It’s all about establishing a good work ethic, as well. If you show me a strong work ethic in the weight room, that’s the kind of work ethic that you’ll provide to others in life when you’re working.”
Those expectations certainly have panned out well for Northwest, especially over the last two seasons. Back-to-back top-five finishes for the boys and girls squads at the NASA Ohio Powerlifting Meet — including two second-place finishes in 2016 — and over 40 qualifiers have put Northwest on the map as one of the state’s more well-respected powerlifting squads.
“That’s a lot of kids, especially when it costs each kid $50 to $60 just to lift in the event,” Smith said. “We fundraised and were able to pay for that entry fee through our booster program.”
The results, however, haven’t just been evident from a team standpoint.
In 2016, Trevan Bazler set a new bar for the Northwest powerlifting program by putting together a 615-pound lift in the squat, while Noah Mills collected a combined total lift of 660 pounds in the bench, squat, and dead lift.
This year, Mills collected a total that exceeded 683 pounds in all three lifts, while Jared Breech, Tony Leslie (who broke the 920-pound mark), Jacob Pickel, and Bruce South all exceeded 550 pounds on their respective lifts. To top it all off, Sara Smith, Lily Rockwell, Alex Smith, Zoe Pierce, and Micha Colley all collected marks that exceeded 303 pounds, with Smith’s 578 leading the way. Of those 10 individuals, not a single one graduates, and only one will be of senior eligibility.
The overall numbers for the unit are also up, as a total of 24 student-athletes participated in the Northwest powerlifting program in 2017. Of those, an even dozen of those 24 are of eighth-grade eligibility or younger.
In all, only two seniors (Tyler Fults and Rachael Pennington) depart a program that has seen massive numbers from Mills (335-pound dead lift, 210-pound squat, 150-pound bench press as a 126-pound eighth-grader), Rockwell (250-pound dead lift as a 171-pound eighth-grader), Briana Kelly-Chandler (210-pound dead lift as a 158-pound eighth-grader), and Austin Hall (265-pound bench press and 405-pound dead lift at 222 pounds), which means that Smith is leaving the program in good shape.
“This year’s group was the largest group that I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “I had a lot more junior high age level involvement.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7