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Mat Rats win medals
Four of the Liberty Mat Rats medalled at the Lake Howell open held last week. Head Coach Phillip Howe, Andrew Houghton, 7, received gold and silver medal in folk style, Hunter Wilson, 7, received a gold and a silver medal in folk style, Jonathan Moyett, 13, received 2 silver medals in folk style, Mason Wells, 13, received a silver in free style and a bronze for folk style, coach Ernie D'Alto. - photo by By Patty Leon / Coastal Courier
Barely one year old, the Liberty Mat Rats wrestling team has already competed in eight tournaments and medal in all except one.
At a recent match, the Lake Howell Open, the Mat Rats sent four competitors and all four returned with medals ranging from gold to bronze. In all, the wrestlers, Andrew Houghton, Mason Wells, Jonathan Moyett and Hunter Wilson brought home 2 gold, 5 silver and a bronze medals.
The meet at Lake Howell drew more than 250 kids who wrestled free style, folk style or Greco-Roman style. Three of the Mat Rats, Moyett, Wilson and Houghton, wrestled in the folk style category in two different age groups and Wells wrestled in folk style and free style in the 14U division.
"I'm really impressed with some of our kids," Mat Rats head coach Phillip Howe said. "Andrew brought home a gold and silver and he's only been wrestling with me for 2 months. He is a natural and I expect a lot of good things from him. Hunter Wilson has big potential. He was 5th in his state of Missouri last season."
Howe said he wanted to introduce the children of Liberty County to wrestling because it helped him throughout his life.
"Wrestling was just a big part of my life growing up and they didn't have a program here," he said. "The high schools don't have it. It's a great sport. I would love to grow this program and possibly have the high school pick up the sport. I would love for that to happen. And the beautiful thing is the Mat Rats can become the place where the kids develop their skills for the high schools. They get training and they know how to wrestle before they start high school, so they will be that much more competitive once they get there."
Howe started his wrestling career in Atlanta for Metter Creek High School under coach Cliff Ramos.
"I picked it up in the eight grade and continued on with through high school," he said.
Howe won a state title in Florida in a free style state tournament and won a free style and Greco-Roman state tournament in Colorado. In 1990 he competed in the nationals in Las Vegas and placed 11th out of 150 in his weight class.
Soon Howe hopes to develop the team to where he can enter an entire team meets and not just individual performers.
"We started out with 2 coaches, Ernie D'Alto and myself and just a few wrestlers," he said. "And now we've added 2 more coaches and we have about 30 kids in the program now. We hope to make it endless and grow the group to 60-90 and get another set of mats. If we get that big then we can go into these tournaments and compete to earn team trophies."  
The Mat Rats are currently housed at the old Liberty Elementary School gym, behind Midway City Hall. Howe is working with USA Wrestling, to develop his program. The ultimate dream, he said, was to have its own practice facility and a well established program.

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