Former Jefferson coach Avsec to be inducted into EOWL Hall of Fame

Jan. 26—The sport of wrestling has had many steps for Tom Avsec.

He started at Collinwood High School on Cleveland's east side in the early 1960s, then went to Hiram College before being drafted to the jungles of Vietnam and later on to Germany where he wrestled with the US Army.

Avsec was an assistant coach at Geneva to preserving a program at Jefferson.

From raising his two sons to become Ivy League wrestlers at Princeton to now watching his grandchildren compete, wrestling has simply become a way of life for the friendly face that has always been in the Jefferson corner of the mat.

On Saturday, Avsec will take yet another step, as he will be inducted into the Eastern Ohio Wrestling League Hall of Fame at Austintown Fitch High School.

Avsec's roots in Ashtabula County were planted in 1988 when he started out as an assistant coach at Geneva. But in 2005, he took over a program that was on the verge of being shut down.

"Jimmy Toukonen [friend and youth wrestling coach] stopped by my house one night and asked if I'd like to take the head coaching job," Avsec said. "I told him, I'd think about it"

Later on, Avsec said he ran into the school's superintendent.

"Yeah, I'll try it," he told him.

Avsec smiles thinking back about that story, partly because it led to him coaching Kyle Gilchrist, who was state-runner up in his first season.

But Avsec also kept a program that provided years of great moments.

"I'm really grateful that I had the opportunity," he said. "If I didn't take that job, that would have been it. There would be no more wrestling in Jefferson. They had every intention of doing away with the program. They had nothing but turmoil. I could not let that happen."

Avsec coached until 2019 before giving way to current coach Cody Lewis. Under his helm, Jefferson had 15 state qualifiers, including six placers.

At 77, though, he's no longer the head coach, but he's not retired from the sport, either.

He can be seen anytime the Falcons are in action and is a regular in the wrestling room working with the kids.

"It just makes me feel better," Avsec said. "I don't always feel like going to practice, like I'd rather just sit around and do nothing. Then I'd go and I come back and I'm motivated. I'd think "that felt pretty good." I think over the years how I never minded spending the time. It's great to work with kids."

Lewis said, "He generally cared and enjoyed coaching more than anything else. The best part of his day was coming into the room and hanging out with us for a couple of hours. He's been around long enough to show how this could be built."

For Lewis and others, Avsec is someone that will always have a place in their hearts.

"Without Tom, Jefferson wrestling would have ceased to exist," Lewis said.

Lewis worked under Avsec as an assistant for about eight years. He calls him the "most genuine person" he's ever met.

"I got to see how you can do the right thing on a daily basis," Lewis said of the mentoring he received. "How you can be a great person and still be successful. I can't say enough good things about Tom. I would not be able to coach had it not been for him showing the way."

Avsec becomes the fifth person from Ashtabula County to be inducted into the EOWL Hall of Fame and the first since 2015. He joins Korrey Leonard, Robert Miller and Dave Miller from Pymatuning Valley and Bill Nye from Grand Valley.

This weekend will mark a rare time that Avsec is not with his team. While he is at the Hall of Fame ceremony, Jefferson will be at Independence for the Chagrin Valley Conference Tournament.

"That's my only regret ... that we will not be able to see it," Lewis said. "But, we are incredibly happy for Tom."