For the past 41 years, Steve Stewart has coached the Smyrna Middle School wrestling team to great heights. Now he'll bow out and hand the reins over to a Smyrna High graduate as he is retiring from coaching for the second time in a year.
Stewart retired as the Smyrna High tennis coach in the spring after 38 years.
"You can be on the top of the game or the bottom of the game. It doesn't matter. There's no time [to retire] that's perfect," Stewart said.
In his time as coach, the team went 364-42-3 with 24 undefeated seasons.
Stewart leaves the wrestling team after watching them complete their 10th consecutive undefeated season earlier this year, dating back to the 2001-2002 season. The Eagles will enter their upcoming season with a 109 dual meet winning streak.
A career full of wins
Stewart's favorite memory over the years, of course, is the team's current 109-meet winning streak. But he has several other fond memories from over the years, including a ten-year period in the '70s and '80s where the team went 98-0-2.
In 2005, the team participated in the Henlopen Middle School Invitational and eight out of 16 weight classes made the finals; seven wrestlers finished first. In 2006, Stewart said the team scored the most points ever scored in the tournament with 274 points. At least five times, the Smyrna team has scored more points in the tournament than both CR middle schools team — Fifer and Postlethwait — combined. Stewart said the tournament trophy will now be called the Steve Stewart Team Trophy.
"One of the proudest moments for me was the 300th career win, which was in 2006 and I received a plaque from DIAA," he said.
Stewart would like to thank the following people for their help over the years: Ron Eby, the Robinson family, the Little Wrestlers program, the Fletcher family, the Barkley family, Andy Gillan, Jody Wilson, assistant coach Jim Hewes, coach Matt Bivins, volunteer coaches over the year including Charlie and Brandon Poffenberger, the fans, parents, community and school administrators.
Bivins named new coach
After spending seven years as a volunteer coach, Smyrna High graduate and SMS social studies teacher Matt Bivins is now the head coach of the wrestling team.
Bivins said he has some big shoes to fill with Stewart retiring but he's up for the challenge. Like many other Smyrna wrestlers, Bivins advanced through the local wrestling programs starting when he was a young boy. He graduated from Smyrna High in 2005 with two team state championships.
For Bivins, Stewart is the epitome of a coach.
"I'm really grateful for all of the wrestling community and backing me for this position," Bivins said. "I think Coach Stewart is one of the best the state has seen and I look forward to continuing the program's great success."
While the wrestlers on the team will miss Stewart, they are also happy Bivins was named head coach.
Eighth grader Nolan Henderson said Stewart was fun to be around but he's excited for Bivins: "Now he can start his own streak."
Although Stewart has stepped down, Bivins said not much has changed in the way the team is run.
"If it's not broke, why fix it," Bivins said.
Assistant Coach Jim Hewes said continuing the team's streak will be hard but that's their goal. Luckily, he said the team is returning quite a bit of talent from last year.
Returning starter Josh Hutchinson believes the team will do well this year because of the experience on the team.
"I would say 80 percent wrestled before," Hutchinson said. "We have more experience than other teams."
Winning won't be easy though and Bivins expects all the meets to be tough, especially when the Eagles play against Dover, Fifer, and Phillis Wheatley. The team is preparing for the season, which starts Monday, Dec. 10 at home against Laurel at 4 p.m., by working and practicing hard. Bivins tells the team everyday to work hard because there's always "somebody training to beat you."
Other than hopefully continuing Smyrna's winning streak, Bivins wants to see the whole team succeed this season.
"The guys that are brand new, I want to see them learn the moves," Bivins said. "The experienced guys, I want to see them go as deep in the tournament as they can. I want to see some championships."
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.