Longwood's 'casualty' of war
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Sports Writer
Progress-Index, Petersburg, VA
FARMVILLE - A casualty of war. It's a designation used sometimes to lend
credence to killing for a bigger or better cause.
Former Hopewell wrestling standout Larry Haynes and his Longwood College
teammates have become casualties of war.
Like many other small colleges and universities across the country, Longwood
is cutting its wrestling program for a bigger and better cause. Supposably,
Longwood currently competes at the NCAA Division II level in the Eastern
Collegiate Athletic Conference, but it has major plans of rising to Division
I in the next six years. According to Longwood Athletic Director Don Lemish,
the athletic department is trying to align itself with the conference it is
trying to join.
Lemish would not name the conference, saying only that it was a "mid-size
Division I conference."
Lemish said the conference in mind did not have a wrestling championship. In
the long run, he suggested, cutting the wrestling program would better the
chances of making the move.
The Colonial Athletic Association and Southern Conference sponsor a
wrestling championship. The Big South Conference does not.
Longwood's athletic department made the decision in late October and
immediately held a meeting with wrestling coach Brent Newell and his
wrestling team. Lemish informed them that the program would be cut effective
at the end of the current season.
The news was not taken well.
"After the meeting, I received an abundance of letters about the program,"
Lemish said. "It was not a positive thing. But, I soon had a meeting with
the parents of the wrestlers, and after the meeting, the letters stopped."
Haynes, a 1998 graduate of Hopewell, went to Longwood in large part because
of wrestling.
"I was truly excited to go to college and wrestle," Haynes said. "It was a
great opportunity for me and I was looking forward to it. I had no idea this
was going to happen when I came here as a freshman."
Haynes had an immediate impact on the team. He started as a freshman at 125
pounds, which then was the lowest weight class. He has suffered through a
few injuries, but as a junior, he now is the starting wrestler at 133
pounds, the current lowest weight class.
"He has really done a good job for us," Newell said. "He has fought through
some injuries, and has come through when we needed him to."
Haynes has a current record of 10-11 this season, but Newell said things
will get better as the season progresses.
"We have wrestled a pretty competitive schedule this season," Newell said.
"That is why there are some losses there, but we will be competing in some
tournaments coming up where Larry will do very well.
"I feel if he continues to progress well, he has a strong chance to advance
to the NCAA Division II Nationals."
The Lancers host the NCAA Division II Eastern Regional tournament Friday,
Feb. 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24. The top four from each weight class advance
to the NCAA Tournament, March 9 and 10 in Greeley, Co.
"I hope I can advance," Haynes said. "That has been my goal since coming
here. It is just kind of depressing and disappointing around here right now.
We have a lot of wrestlers on our roster who are contemplating quitting or
not giving it their all because they feel there is no reason to."
One of those wrestlers who has left the team is former Dinwiddie standout
Todd Leek. Leek, who started at heavyweight as a freshman last season, left
the team at the semester break due to personal and family reasons.
Leek, a 1999 graduate of Dinwiddie, was named the team's Most Improved
Wrestler last season.
"You know Todd had some problems with the program ending," Newell said.
"With that, and the family and personal problems he has had, he decided it
was best for him to leave the team. I support him totally."
Hopewell coach Clay Bennett said it was sad to see the area's prominent
wrestlers' careers end too soon.
"Longwood has been a great outlet for Central Region wrestlers," Bennett
said. "Here, we have two of the stronger wrestlers who have been through the
district in a while. It is just too bad."
Haynes is arguably the most decorated wrestler in Hopewell history. He was a
three-time Central District champion, two-time Central Region champion and
was the Blue Devils' first Group AAA finalist in school history his senior
"He really got to the next level," Bennett said. "Making it to the finals
was so special, even though he lost. It was just a special experience for
him and myself."
Haynes lost an 11-3 decision to four-time finalist and three-time champion
Bobby Ingram of Cox in 1998.
Leek holds the career-record mark for wins at Dinwiddie with 82. He only
wrestled for three years, but was a two-time region runner-up. He also
finished fourth in Group AAA his senior year at heavyweight.
"The reason why the record for wins is low is because most wrestlers only
started for three years here," said Dinwiddie coach Chad Hall. "Todd was a
good and smart wrestler. He was unusually quick for his size. It is just too
bad to hear about the program."
There is a definite pipeline between the Central Region and Longwood's
program. Including Leek, there are seven wrestlers from the region on the
Lancers' roster.
"The Central Region has produced many outstanding wrestlers for our
program," Newell said. "Some of these wrestlers may not have been recruited
heavily by other programs because of their location."
So where does the current crop of wrestlers look to compete in college?
"That is a good question," Haynes said. "There aren't many programs in the
state now. It will be tough for some of the area's wrestlers to find a
school now."
Counting Longwood, 13 Virginia colleges and universities have dropped their
wrestling programs. The list includes Liberty, Hampton, Hampden-Sydney,
Norfolk State, William & Mary, Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth, Eastern
Mennonite, Virginia State, Randolph-Macon, Livingstone and Roanoke.
James Madison University announced this fall it may cut its program. JMU
Athletic Director Jeff Bourne will recommend the university's cuts in March.
One positive Longwood has offered Haynes is his financial stability. Haynes
is on partial-scholarship. He will continue to receive his grant-and-aid
until he graduates. He is on pace to graduate during the next two years.
"I really have enjoyed my time here at Longwood," Haynes said. "This has
just been a really tough time for me and the rest of the team. I never, ever
thought that something like this would happen when I came here."
Haynes offered some advice to rising high school juniors and seniors.
"Check out the school," he said. "Ask as many questions as you can. Talk to
the current wrestlers and coach. They will be honest with you. Do all the
research you can."
After all, nobody wants to be a casualty of war.

. Jonathan D. Duty can be reached at 804-732-3456. ext. 262.