Welcome to Day 4 of WIN Magazine’s countdown to the 2023 Final...
Arkansas team showed coach its ‘will to win’
By Sandy Stevens
Editor’s Note: The following column first appeared in WIN, Volume 19, Issue 7, and printed March 13, 2013.
Four years ago, while Ed Viera was teaching and coaching at a small country school in Arkansas, he canceled the school’s wrestling season.
“They were just kids who didn’t want to work hard,” he explained.
But what Viera and his assistant coaches have accomplished since then mirrors the rapidly expanding success of Arkansas high school wrestling … in just its fourth year as a sanctioned sport.
After Viera shut down the program, he vowed that the following year — when the rural school closed and the 1,200-student Maumelle High School opened — he’d recruit wrestlers from the ninth-grade honors classes.
“They had a good work ethic,” Viera said. “They were used to a workload.”
His plan paid off in ways which have even Viera shaking his head in disbelief.
That first year, he took his team — all 10 freshmen — to the state tournament in Little Rock. Maumelle finished seventh.
Last year he fielded a full squad which included the 10 frosh returning as sophomores and just one senior. Two of the sophomores and the senior won state titles, and the team finished as Division IA-5A runner-up with 10 medalists.
On Feb. 23 this year, the Maumelle Hornets, who finished the season with a squad of 26, lived up to their No. 1 season-long ranking. They compiled 288.5 points to out-distance its closest competitor by 93 and took home the state hardware.
Wearing T-shirts that declared “Tengo Ganas!” (“I Have the Will to Win!”), a total of 10 Hornets garnered All-State honors, including four champions: junior Justin Butler, winning his second title at 138; juniors Dan Viera (Coach Viera’s son), 152, and Keon McVay, 160; and sophomore Malik Singleton, 220.
But there was more: Outstanding Wrestler honors went to Butler, Cole Brainerd received the Pursuing Victory with Honor sportsmanship award and Viera was named Coach of the Year.
“It’s great to have those accolades,” Viera said of his award, “but it’s (the wrestlers) who work hard. They know I give out only one award at our banquet, a ‘Mr. Guts’ award to someone who has persevered, usually over something major.
“Everyone else gets what they’ve earned.
“We have really high expectations,” he stressed. “You want to join our team? My first question is, ‘Why would the team want you? Besides winning, what can you bring to the team?’”
Viera is also quick to give credit to his assistants, Tony Brainerd and Blake Butler, both dads of Maumelle wrestlers.
“They’re basically my technicians,” said Viera, now 52. “Thirteen years of rugby has beaten me up pretty bad, so I’m lucky to have them. It’s like the wrestlers have three extra dads.”
Though the honors have come early in the school’s existence, building the wrestling program hasn’t come easily.
One of Viera’s ideas has been to post his wrestlers’ matches on a computer folder called “Teachershare,” used by the Maumelle High School staff.
“Whatever you put in there in your classroom, they can see and put up in their classrooms,” said Viera, also an assistant varsity football coach.
During a reading period, a teacher might display a match and say, “Oh, look, Dave won against …”
“The wrestlers love it,” Viera said. “Wrestling is not really big in Arkansas, so it’s a battle to get people to come (to meets). Slowly but surely maybe we can get them to come to a meet by exposing them to a match.
“And the teachers think it’s a great idea,” he added. “It gives them an opportunity to bring the wrestler closer. It’s an endearment type of thing.”
He even coordinated his team’s YouTube version of the “Harlem Shake” to ease their stress the week of the state tournament.
Viera and his wife, Mindy, are also parents of Dalimar, who played on her school’s state championship volleyball team and is now a senior at the University of Arkansas, and Mindy, 15, a freshman volleyball player (with the same first name of her mother) at Bentonville High School.
Viera himself knows about battling the odds, having come to the United States from Cuba as a toddler.
“But I’ve always considered myself a guest in this country, and you always act better at someone else’s house than at your own,” he said.
“That’s what I try to teach the boys — how you conduct yourself. If you don’t want someone throwing rocks at you, don’t give them any rocks.”
As an example, Viera said, the team always takes garbage bags to meets to pick up after themselves. “After the meet, the gym is spotless,” he said.
“Ten All-Staters, four champs, that’s all good,” Viera said, “but what means more are the compliments we get from parents of wrestlers from other teams about the behavior of our wrestlers.”