In the past, being the wrestling coach at Lake Oswego High School might have been one of the most thankless coaching jobs in the Three Rivers League. Even though the school has always been loaded with good athletes, it seemed very few of them wanted to turn out for wrestling.

Each year, it seemed the only question was whether Lake Oswego would finish last or next to last in the TRL standings. It might not be that way much longer, though, at least if second-year coach Chad Smith has anything to say about it.

'A lot of it, I think, has to do with a lack of consistency with the head coach,' Smith said. 'Even though I work outside the school, I still have to spend a lot of time here.'

Smith isn't just saying the right things in an attempt to please people.

He put his philosophy to the test during the off-season when he conducted two wrestling-related workouts per week while maintaining a full-time job at Club Sport. His next step will be to build a youth program through the district's elementary schools. That effort alone could be what turns wrestling around at Lake Oswego.

'That's my goal for next season, is to have a kids program running,' Smith said. 'That way, as kids grow up in this community, they're growing up wrestling. They may be playing other sports, but they'll at least be introduced at a young age to wrestling.'

It helps that Lake Oswego already has some model youth programs for Smith to use as examples.

'Coach (Steve) Coury is very involved in the youth (football) program,' Smith said. 'That has to be me. I have to be around. That way, people know I'm committed to the program and the school.'

Smith's level of commitment and enthusiasm has already helped with this year's program.

'We have 27 kids out (which is higher than normal), and we have a full lineup for the first time in 20 years, I believe,' Smith said.

No one would have believed that claim if they watched Lake Oswego's dual meet against Oregon City last week. For that match, the Lakers were left seriously short-handed as they waited for several football players to turn out. That caused Lake Oswego to forfeit seven out of 14 matches.

'But we've got our football guys and some other kids back, and we've now filled the lineup,' Smith said. 'I've talked to some teachers who have been around and they said they've never seen that before.'

The turnout might have improved but the team could be younger than it has been in recent years. Of the 27 team members, just two of them - Kyle Allison and Macadam Lea - are seniors.

Allison placed fourth in the district tournament two years ago and now seems to be back on a similar track after enduring a rough junior season.

His achievements this season include a 145-pound championship at a tournament at Benson. Lake Oswego's Chris Allen also won the 103-pound class at Benson.

Other promising team members include Dakota Hulsey at 119 pounds, Khashi Jafari at 189 and Ryan Amacher at 275.

Getting more wrestlers like those guys will be the key to the program's success in the future. And keeping Smith around for a while could be one of the keys as well.

'I think the problem (in the past) has been the inconsistency of a head coach,' Smith said. 'Last year, when I took over (the program) I was the fourth head coach in five years. You can't build success that way.

'Things are already changing. Four years ago, they had seven kids on the team. To go from seven to 27 in four years is awesome.'

Even with the improvement, the Lakers still won't challenge for a district title, mainly because three league opponents (West Linn, Oregon City and Clackamas) are all ranked in the top 10 in state. For now, Smith is more focused on individual efforts.

'As long as the kids go out and give it everything they have, every match, that's all I care about,' he said. 'It's about breeding success, and if the kids work hard, the success will come.'

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