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LCRD Mat Rats finish successful season
The LCRD Mat Rats that have medalled this season are: Jonathan Moyett, Gavin Landin, Andrew Houghton, Ryan Foster, Weston Owen and Mason Wells (Hunter Wilson Xavier Fredmonswki are not pictured). Standing behind the wrestlers is coach Philip Howe, and parents Walter Landin (Gavin), Amanda Foster (Ryan and Andrew), Jane Stetson (Weston and Randy) and Travis Wells (Mason) - photo by By Patty Leon / Coastal Courier
For nearly a year, they pummeled and practiced single- and double-leg takedowns. They learned freestyle versus Greco-Roman throwing styles and folk style. They pounded the mats from Orlando to Atlanta, and they did so successfully.
The Liberty County Recreation Department’s newest family members, a team of wrestlers known as the Mat Rats, have accomplished much more than their coach Philip Howe imagined they would.
With roughly 13 matches in their short season, the Mat Rats had wrestlers place in all but one competition.
The Mat Rats wrapped up their season May 10 at the Wildcat Open in Winder where they competed in a Greco-Roman match at Apalachee High School.
Andrew Houghton, 7, who started wrestling only a few months ago, placed first in his age division after going 4-1 and defeating his opponent for the win.
Hunter Wilson, also 7, nabbed second place. Ryan Foster went 3-2 and took third in the junior division, and Mason Wells went 3-2 and took third for the 14U group.
“We exceeded our goals this year,” Howe said. “Our goal was to teach them the basics, get them acclimated to the program, possibly get them to a few tournaments and keep them interested in the program. I never expected for as many of them to be as successful as they have been.”
The success can be attributed to Howe, assistant coach Ernie D’Alto and volunteer coaches, most of them parents like Travis Wells, who committed their time to the young men and one-woman team.
Moreover, while the season is over, the commitment to grow and nurture this successful team continues.
“We will take June through September off,” the coach said. During that time, the team plans to work on improving the gym at the former Liberty Elementary School, which the LCRD allowed the Mat Rats to use for practice purposes.  
“We plan on putting in a lot of hours to reorganize the facility, clean it up. We will also use the time off to try and seek sponsors through the nonprofit I formed called ‘The Coastal Athletic Association,’ so we can get them some new uniforms and look like a professional team. We also need another mat to wrestle on, and hopefully we will get the sponsorship we need to get these things done,” Howe said.
Howe also is working on getting the team sanctioned through USA wrestling and organizing the Mat Rats as a part of the state club so they can earn points in the regionally sanctioned event.
“We’ve elected not to go to regional this year,” Howe said. “Part of that is due to money. We’ll skip it this year but we plan to be there next year. In the event that any one of them places at regional, it automatically qualifies them for nationals. Until we have our state club team set up, we will not get state points or rankings, but I’m looking forward to have that ready by the start of our season this September. I would not be surprised if every one of them placed next year.”
Mason Wells, 13, the oldest member of the team, has just one more year before he is eligible to compete at the high school level.
Andrew Houghton performed so well, the coach said he wouldn’t be surprised if Houghton went all the way next year.
“I can picture us standing here next season and talking about him being nationally ranked,” Howe said of Houghton. “Olympic trials are a long way out for him, but for junior Olympics and things of that nature, he is on the right track.”
For now, Howe said it’s time the kids took a break as a reward for all their hard work.
“It was the last tournament for the season. It was a very successful season and I hope everyone involved and more will return next season,” he said. “I think they all will (return), but I hope they take the summer off and relax and refocus. I wish we had a few more people turn out and join the program, but for our first year out of the box, we had a great year.”
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