St. John’s head wrestling coach Derek Sterling (left) stands with former Blue Jay wrestler Evyn Pohlman. Sterling has been involved with St. John's wrestling for 25 years. (Photo Submitted)
St. John’s head wrestling coach Derek Sterling (left) stands with former Blue Jay wrestler Evyn Pohlman. Sterling has been involved with St. John's wrestling for 25 years. (Photo Submitted)
DELPHOS — Derek Sterling has been a fixture in the St. John’s wrestling program for nearly a quarter century as either an athlete or a coach. As the Blue Jays celebrate 50 years on the mat this season, Sterling’s contribution has left an indelible mark on program that will have a lasting effect.

Sterling began his wrestling career in 1992 while still in junior high. He went on to compete at the state tournament his senior year and started coaching at his alma mater, Delphos St. John’s.

“St. John’s wanted to start a wrestling program in 1968 so they reached out to a guy by the name of Samuel Brewer,” Sterling said. “He taught math for St. John’s and was a student at Ohio Northern at the time.”

When the school was looking to start the program, they turned to Brewer to head the first wrestling team at St. John’s because he had two years of experience as a wrestler. He stayed on for two years and helped get the program off the ground before moving to Dayton.

The wrestling program found success under head coach Ray Funk in the early eighties with several athletes as state qualifiers. Tom Merschman followed funk in the mid to late eighties and brought several players to the state tournament as well. Tom Kroeger took over for three years after Merschman until Keith Kramer was given the head coach position in the early nineties.

“Kramer was my varsity coach,” said Sterling. “He was at the helm for nine years and actually was on my staff as an assistant when I was first starting out. Merschman also helped with the program for a few years as my assistant as well.”

Wrestling was not always in Sterling's blood and was involved with basketball before Kramer convinced him to give wrestling a shot.

“I played basketball as a seventh grader. Keith was an assistant varsity coach at the time and would always ask me to try out for wrestling. I showed up expecting to see turnbuckles and ropes and had no idea what wrestling was really about. My dad was a basketball player and was a little skeptical when I told him I wanted to wrestle, but by my sophomore year he was a true fan of the sport. He even continued to attend wrestling matches after I graduated and coach Kramer gave him the name of ‘Super Fan’,” Sterling said.

Sterling has seen the sport evolve over the past 25 years from technique to regulations and everything in between.

“The style has been one of the biggest changes, ” said Sterling. “It is a more aggressive style now and a lot more action on our feet. When I wrestled it was a lot of bottom and top, trying to turn and pin the opponent. I was trying to get the near-fall and pin whereas now, the guys are out there trying to score points.”

The 2018-2019 season will mark Sterling's 10th year as head varsity coach and his favorite part of the job is watching the growth and develpment of his players from year-to-year.

“Not just me but our coaching staff gets to develop these guys everyday. It is about the lessons they take out of here that matter the most to me. Watching them develop and grow is the best part of my job,” Sterling concluded.