From the sports editor: Wrestling will still be a big part of Howell’s life

Kurt Howell

Kurt Howell may have been as good a wrestler as Delaware has ever produced.

His 108-0 record at Newark High followed by a 100-22 mark at Clemson would put him in anybody’s league.

So for Howell, saying that his body wouldn’t let him get on the mat with his wrestlers any more is no small thing.

But it was also the harsh truth for the 50-year-old Smyrna High coach after having joint replacement surgeries in both shoulders.

His health was one of the main reasons why Howell told his team on Tuesday that he was stepping down as their head coach.

“It’s made it kind of difficult to do what I do,” said Howell, who also may need a knee replacement. “I’ve had a few talks with people about, ‘Yeah, you can coach different ways. You can be the coach that stands back and does the organizing, runs the program and lets the younger guys do the technique and wrestling.’

“I thought about it, but it’s not my thing. … I feel like my best thing is getting in there and teaching kids how to wrestle.”

So after winning five dual-meet state titles in 14 seasons under Howell, the Eagles have to find a new wrestling coach.

The proud program has had only six head coaches since Ron Eby was hired in 1964. Eby was followed by Buddy Lloyd who was followed by Mike Dulin who was followed by Clay Lloyd who was followed by David Morrison who was followed by Howell.

After Eby, Howell was the first one in that group to come from outside the Smyrna wrestling ‘family.’ It will be interesting to see where the Eagles go next.

Presumably there will be a lot of potential coaches for a program with over 600 all-time victories, a ton of tradition and a committed community.

Howell said he’s had some preliminary discussions with Smyrna athletic director Bill Schultz about possible replacements.

At the same time, don’t be surprised to still see Howell around the Smyrna wrestling room. He’s going to remain a teacher at the school.

“Don’t think you’re not going to be hearing from me,” Howell said he told his wrestlers. “‘I’m going to be involved in what you’re doing. I’m going to be guessing your weight when you walk down the hallway.’

“It’s something they always laugh about,” he explained. “I can usually just look at them and tell them what they weigh — within a pound.

“It just becomes a part of who you are,” Howell said about wrestling. “Wrestling is a part of who I am.”

Hooping it up

Over the years, downstaters have frequently felt overlooked on the All-State boys’ basketball team.

But that shouldn’t be the case this year.

Led by Player of the Year Caleb Matthews from Smyrna, six of the top 10 selections on this season’s All-State team are from the Henlopen Conference.

And a total of 13 downstaters were honored on the team, which is selected by the state’s coaches and organized by the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association.

Perhaps nobody was more excited to be named to the All-State squad than honorable mention pick Thomas Hoskins of Lake Forest.

The once-promising Dover freshman was out of basketball altogether before returning to school and the sport this year as a senior at Lake Forest.

Spartans’ coach Mike Starkey said the 6-foot-3 small forward was the driving force at the heart of Lake’s 15-7 seasons. It was the program’s most victories in over a decade.

Starkey said Hoskins’ enthusiasm was infectious for his teammates.

“You could play him for 32 minutes and he would always be at that same level,” said Starkey. “In the first half of the year he was just like a little puppy — just running all over the place.

“We just labelled him ‘athlete’ and turned him loose,” Starkey said about Hoskins’ position. “He was at the front of our press and then at the back getting rebounds. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guy like that. He could get a rebound and dribble the ball faster than most people could run the floor.”

Muehleisen remembered

Bill Muehleisen is probably best remembered for coaching Christiana to the Division I football state title in 1994.

But, with Muehleisen passing away at the age of 80 on Feb. 23, it’s also worth remembering that his coaching roots were downstate. His first head coaching job was at Harrington High in 1964.

Before facing coach John Coveleski’s Caesar Rodney squad in the ‘94 title game, Muehleisen recalled a previous run-in with Cov.

In 1968, Coveleski was a senior on the Rehoboth squad that beat Harrington. Muehleisen swears that Coveleski came off the sidelines to tackle a Harrington punt returner in the game.

“We didn’t see it that night and neither did any of the four officials that were there,” Muehlesien in ‘94. “But we saw it the following night on film. He was standing right next to his daddy (Rehoboth coach Frank Coveleski).

“I don’t think to this day he’s ever admitted it. I don’t think he even brings it up. But I let some of his co-coaches know about it. We’ve talked and laughed about it. I keep telling everybody that I still have the film.”

In a coaching career that spanned five decades and six schools, Muehleisen never seemed to be at a loss for opinions.

In 1995, he wasn’t too happy when Christiana’s game with Dover had to be moved to a Saturday morning.

“Personally, I think Saturday morning is a great time to take your wife to breakfast,” Muehleisen said that day. “(Delaware) is the only place in this galaxy that plays Saturday morning football.”

Odds & ends

• While it still feels more like winter, the high school springs sports season gets underway on Thursday.

Downstate schools have had a great deal of success in the spring. Henlopen squads have won nine straight state titles in girls’ lacrosse, five of the last six crowns in softball, four of the last five in boys’ Division I track & field, five of the last seven in boys’ tennis and two straight in girls’ tennis.

• Smyrna High’s 60-49 loss to St. Elizabeth in the boys’ basketball state championship game last Saturday was certainly a disappointment for the Eagles. Still, the school has been on an unprecedented run lately.

Since 2013, Smyrna has won a combined eight DIAA state championships in wrestling, football and basketball while losing in the finals of those sports just twice.

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