When longtime wrestling coach John McNulty retired after last season, Elyria Catholic didn’t have to go far to find an able replacement.
The Panthers introduced Kent Horton as their coach Wednesday afternoon. Horton coached for eight years at Cleveland Central Catholic — a North Coast League rival of Elyria Catholic — and had already turned the CCC program over to former standout Danny Garcia at the close of last season.
“I hadn’t even planned on coaching next season,” Horton said. “But I go way back with John McNulty and (Elyria Catholic event coordinator) Tom Evans and this seemed like a really good fit for me.”
McNulty ran the Panthers program for 15 years, coaching several individual state champions and winning the Division III sectional team championship just two seasons ago. He has had a wrestler qualify to state nearly every year, including heavyweight Tim Rankin who placed sixth in March.
“We are happy that Kent Horton will be joining us and continuing the great tradition that Coach McNulty built here at Elyria Catholic,” Panthers athletic director Barb Salata said.
Horton’s first order of business will be reviving interest in the sport. The turnout has dropped in the past couple of seasons.
“It’s probably not going to happen overnight,” Horton said. “It takes some special relationship building. We did a good job of building from nothing at Central. We got kids wanting to come out, mostly by word of mouth.”
Elyria Catholic is doing its part to help build interest. The school built a new facility on the north side of the football field that will house a weight room and a wrestling room, which means the wrestlers will no longer have to practice in the cramped space behind the gymnasium bleachers.
“That’s going to be nice,” Horton said. “We worked out on a wrestling stage in the gym for years before they built a new gym at Central. So I’m kind of used to cramped quarters.”
Horton plans to put the new facility to use soon, according to Dane Szente, who will be the lone senior on next season’s squad.
“He said that he’s going to try and get open mats going this summer,” Szente said. “He also plans on having study tables available before and after school to help us with our schoolwork.
“The thing I like most is that he was a wrestler in high school and in college. So he understands the sport and is really going to know what he’s talking about.”
Horton wrestled at Toledo Start High School, then the University of Toledo. He moved to the Cleveland area with his wife, and they and their four children reside in Olmsted Falls. He was an assistant and a head coach at North Olmsted High for four years.
The most telling example of a seamless transition is that Horton made mention of the continuance of Elyria Catholic’s annual McNulty Memorial tournament, a 2-year-old event honoring John’s father.
“That’s really fantastic because I wanted that to live on,” McNulty said. “A lot of people, myself included, put a lot of work into getting that going and I love it because it’s a chance to bring a lot of Division III wrestling programs from all over the state to Lorain County each year.”
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.