|Renowned past Blair Academy coach Jeff Buxton named head coach of Lehigh Valley Athletic Club|
By Denny Diehl Lehigh Valley Athletic Club
In one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Lehigh Valley Athletic Club founded in 1999, Jeff Buxton has been named Director of the LVAC and Head Coach of its freestyle teams. The announcement was made Saturday night by Pat Santoro from the podium of a Blair tribute dinner in Jeff’s honor in DC.
The appointment came after a unanimous vote of approval by the Club’s Board of Directors, which offered him the contract, considered a key component of the LVAC mission plan. Among numerous goals are to build and maintain optimal depth of post-grad training partners for younger athletes seeking to excel at the next levels.
Buxton arrives after a storied 30-year tenure as teacher and renowned Blair Academy coach, compiling one of the nation's most distinguished high school coaching careers. He’s also served New Jersey long and ably as freestyle coach at the Cadet National and Junior National levels.
Among over 10,000 high schools competing in wrestling, Buxton's Blair teams ranked number one in the nation ten times from 1995-96 to 2011-12. During his tenure on staff, Blair won 30 National Prep team titles, plus 26 of the nation's top in-season high school events (Beast of the East, or Ironman) - a total more than double all others combined (16-BOE; 10-Ironman). His Buccaneer grapplers won 160 individual National Prep titles and his 2001-02 team is widely considered as perhaps the finest high school team of all-time, earning eight 1st-team ASICS All American berths.
Blair Academy has had some advantages over most HS programs, due to the prep school's prestige that began emerging in the '70's to help attract wrestlers nationally and sometimes overseas. His bio, written by Blair historian, Dave Ritterpusch, Lehigh '63, confirms that since 2000 Buxton enjoyed having starters from CA, CT, MD, MA, NY, OH, OK, PA and VA. He also coached Blair's first three NJ natives ever to win NCAA Div. I titles - and they won five crowns.
The more salient points for college diehards: Buxton wrestlers went on to win 37 NCAA All-American medals, including 10 titles (by six men), six seconds and seven thirds -- while competing on seven NCAA team champions. His former wrestlers include four 2-time champs: Pat Santoro (Pitt, NCAA 6,2,1,1), Steve Mocco (Iowa 2,1; OklaSt 2,1), Mark Perry (Iowa, 2,3,1,1) and Kellen Russell (Michigan, 7,1,1); plus Zack Esposito (OklaSt, 2,1,3) and Ed Ruth (PSU, 3,1 with 2 yrs left). Santoro and Ruth never reached a state final before their one year developing rapidly at Blair, where they each won National Prep titles and Outstanding Wrestler awards.
At the 2005 NCAAs, former Buccaneer wrestlers won 30 bouts with two titles, a second and a third. Overall, six of them finished with 18 All American places in their college careers. That 2005 season was one of two Nationals with two former Buxton wrestlers winning titles (Esposito, Mocco); the other was in 2012 (Russell; Ruth). Esposito, Russell and Mocco all hailed from the Garden State. Blair grads doubling in 1979: Iowa State's Kelly Ward and Lehigh's Mark Lieberman, each coached at Blair by Tom Hutchinson.
A stat of true distinction: ten future NCAA titles won by former Buxton wrestlers was exceeded by just six universities in the same 30-year period (Iowa, Iowa St, Okla St, Ohio St, Penn St, Minn).
Testimony to Buxton was recently published in an Amateur Wrestling News article authored by high school guru, Bob Preusse (OH). Rival (private) prep school coach, Jeff Jordan, from St. Paris Graham (OH) said: "Buxton thrives on competition… with a joy of battle." From Bob Behre, Newark Star Ledger: "Buxton had a way of reaching kids, motivating them and having them love him at the same time; like a magic trick today." Said PA writer Rob Sherrill: "A great coach and technician … a master of getting his kids to the next level and helping place them at the right level."
Renowned for unique coaching techniques, Buxton ran an open wrestling room at Blair, a format very similar to the LVAC's. Many outside wrestlers developed their skills, such as NCAA champs Matt Valenti and Troy Nickerson. Jeff served as coach of NJ state teams at the Cadet National and Junior Freestyle Duals in June and the Cadet and Junior National individual tournaments in Fargo in July. Active in the USA Wrestling NJ state association, he served on the NJ Coaches Council.
Buxton began as coach and math teacher at Blair in 1982-83. He coached both lacrosse and wrestling at first, eventually focusing on wrestling. He was named co-head wrestling coach in 1984 and head coach in 1991. A lifelong Red Sox fan, Jeff was a 3-sport athlete at Providence Country Day School (RI) in lacrosse, football and wrestling. He was unbeaten in high school and won National Preps in 1975. He wrestled at the U. of Rhode Island and won the OW award at the 1980 Northeast Regional Trials for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Buxton received USA Wrestling's Lifetime Achievement Award at a 2006 at a major 2006 Olympic fundraising event in NNJ. Speakers included Dan Gable, Olympic Coach Steve Fraser and Olympic Champion, Rulon Gardner (another honoree). Buxton is a member of the Rhode Island Hall of Fame and in 2009 was selected as the first-ever NWCA "National Prep Coach of the Year," an award he won three times. He’s the father of Tony, a member of the Harvard wrestling program (Class of '13) and a daughter, Siena, currently at High Point University '15 in NC (both Blair alumni).
The bottom lines for the LVAC are major: to have the Club run by a head coach of considerable renown, filling a berth open since Jason Kutz left in Aug. ‘11 to run the U.S Army Freestyle Team … the opportunity to attract future athletes to train in Bethlehem, as well as new funding. To say that Jeff Buxton developed friends and relationships over the years would be an understatement, with his skills, charisma and connections going well beyond Blair. His acquisition is one more key to Pat Santoro’s bid to build the highest quality overall wrestling possible in the greater Lehigh Valley.
Coach Buxton’s departure from Blair was noted with enormous sentiment and support at the testimonial dinner on the American campus just prior to the All-Star Classic. Organized by Friends of Blair Academy led by businessman and Blair parent, Alan Meltzer, about 150 friends and former wrestlers converged on the nation’s capital, including guests from OK, CO, MN, IL, OH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD, DC and VA. Speakers included parents Meltzer, Nick Milonas and Rob Preston as well as former Blair wrestlers Cory Cooperman, Matt Palmer, Max Meltzer and Marat Tomaev.