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Lott(s) of reasons to honor Liberty legend | News, Sports, Jobs

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Lott(s) of reasons to honor Liberty legend | News, Sports, Jobs

Staff photo / Joe Simon —
Liberty wrestling coach Hadi A. Hadi, far left, claps as coaches Ryan Williams, middle, and Scott Husk, right, reveal a sign in honor of former head coach Don Lott (not pictured).

LIBERTY — Former Liberty High School wrestling coach Don Lott has been said to have a way of reaching kids of all types — finding different ways to catch their attention and help them understand various aspects of sports and life.

One of the many wrestlers he mentored during his 17 years leading the Leopards was current Liberty wrestling coach Hadi A. Hadi. He still watches as Lott, now 82 and volunteering as a coach, interacts with kids on the team and discovers methods to motivate them.

Lott often uses “one-liners” to make a point — some of which he made up and others he heard from legendary coaches such as John Wooden. Lott is a legend in his own right, and he was recently honored for his service at Liberty with a ceremony naming the school’s varsity house — better known as the “blockhouse” — the Don Lott Blockhouse.

A committee spearheaded by Hadi and Liberty assistant coaches Ryan Williams and Hans Kirr raised the funds to buy two large neon signs that were placed on the varsity house.

Humbled and almost embarrassed by the gesture, Lott came up with a one-liner to describe his excitement.

Staff photo / Joe Simon —
Former Liberty wrestling coach Don Lott, who founded the program in 1975, and his wife, Ellen, look during a ceremony renaming the school’s varsity house in Don’s name.

“Heavens yes,” said Lott of whether it meant a lot to have the building named after him. “(President Donald) Trump, he has to pay for them to put his name on buildings. I didn’t really have to pay for it.”

Well, in some respects he did, but “it was all for funzies” for Lott.

Lott is a 1956 Howland High School graduate and was on the initial wrestling team at Howland. He went on and wrestled briefly at Ohio State University before moving back to the Mahoning Valley and becoming a teacher at Brookfield. He began a wrestling program there before taking a job at Liberty and starting its program as well, in 1975. He remained as coach for 17 seasons, retiring in 1992.

Lott remembers the first time he became interested in coaching. His college coach put on a clinic for youth wrestlers in the Columbus area, and Lott, just out of college, volunteered to help.

“I went up in our old wrestling room, and I helped,” he said. “Me and a quite a few other guys were there, helping these kids with things like referee’s position, single-legs — some of the basics — and I thought, ‘This is really cool. Having kids go out and do things that you taught them — this is almost as much fun as teaching at school.’ I just thought it was really fun.”

Staff photo / Joe Simon — Former Liberty wrestling coach Don Lott, middle, current Leopards coach Hadi A. Hadi, left, and assistant coach Hans Kirr, right, pose for a photo during a ceremony renaming the school’s varsity house.

Hundreds of wrestlers at Liberty are happy he felt that way.

Lott led the Leopards to four league titles and mentored 11 state placers and two state runners-up. The Leopards also crowned their first state champion in 1991, with J.T. DelGarbino pinning his way through the state tournament onto a heavyweight title.

Lott powered Liberty to the most successful stretch in school history, and yet, that means very little to the mild-mannered coach.

“I remember John Wooden from UCLA,” said Lott of what inspired him to reach kids on a different level. “I heard some of the stuff he used to tell his kids — ‘Basketball is a wonderful sport, but so is being a human being.’ You know, if you can’t turn out good citizens, you shouldn’t be working with them. There’s more to sports than winning championships. Now, our kids won their fair share, but I still tell them, ‘It’s all for funzies. I want you to turn out to be a good human being.’ “

It appears Lott succeeded.

Staff photo / Joe Simon —
Former Liberty wrestling coach Don Lott, who founded the school’s program in 1975, poses for a photo in front of Liberty’s varsity house, which was named in Lott’s honor.

Dozens of former wrestlers showed up at the ceremony. Doug Nasci, a 1982 Liberty graduate and the former chairman of the Friends of Liberty Wrestling booster organization, had Lott for algebra. Nasci joined the team because his brother wrestled. He stayed because of Lott.

“He touched a lot of lives, and he inspired a lot of people,” Nasci said. “And he taught you right from wrong. He’d teach you good morals. Outside of wrestling and outside of teaching, he was just a good guy. He taught you a lot. You learned a lot about life from him. He was always watching out for you, too. If he knew kids were getting into trouble, he’d go get involved and help them get themselves out of trouble.”

Hadi doesn’t mind admitting he was one of those troubled kids.

A 1990 graduate and a three-sport athlete with the Leopards, Hadi was going down the wrong path as a freshman when Mr. Lott stepped in and helped him refocus.

“I try to take as much from Mr. Lott as I can because I know how much of an impact he had on myself and a lot of others,” said Hadi, entering his ninth year as Liberty’s head wrestling coach. “I don’t want to say I try to mimic him because I’m never going to be Mr. Lott. What I try to do is I try to take his philosophy in regards to how he communicated with the kids, and I add my own thing to it a little bit because I’m a little more excitable than Mr. Lott. In the end, the ultimate goal for Mr. Lott was to make you a better person, and that’s my goal. That’s the best thing you could ever do for a kid, and he did that for me.”

Hadi isn’t the only one.

Kirr, a 1984 graduate, was another standout wrestler at Liberty and has been coaching at the school for nearly 30 years. Lott’s influence is the main reason why.

“In my mind, I call him the measuring stick,” Kirr said. “Every other man I ever meet in my life is measured up next to him. He just has an intangible, genuine unselfishness. You can’t quantify it, and you can’t really qualify it either, but it’s something you see, and every kid in the room sees it and gravitates to it. It’s such a special quality.”

Lott’s way of coaching is why he now has his name in bright lights on the varsity house.

He admits neon lights and ceremonies aren’t really his style, but he appreciated the gesture.

“Ever since they built it, back in ’76 or ’77, it’s always been known to me as the blockhouse,” he said. “To put my name up there with it, that’s just incredible.

“The one bright thing is it’s not the Don Lott memorial blockhouse,” he added, laughing. “That’s good.”

Another classic one-liner from a Liberty legend.

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