Leslie (Woodfinden) Moya says LCCVI is losing a great team builder when Marty Leeson retires.
Leeson, whose name is synonymous with wrestling in the Petrolia high school’s halls, is leaving the ring at the end of the school year.
Leeson began his wrestling career when a student at LCCVI. The Dawn Township native came in second at OFSAA as a teen.
He went to school, took a degree in economics and went into banking. It was the 1980s and Leeson was foreclosing on a lot of mortgages as interest rates soared. He became disillusioned. “I thought I’d be helping people out, but it was more about making money for the corporations,” he says.
So, he went to Fort McMurray determined to make enough cash to go back to school and become a teacher. It was a long, cold year, but he toughed it out and headed to the University of Western Ontario. There he joined the wrestling team. While he was good, his teammates were better. The coach was Canada’s Olympic wrestling coach and five of the team members were on the team. “I got beat up a lot,” he says wryly.
But he thinks it also helped him as he became a teacher and wrestling coach at Watford’s East Lambton Secondary School.
“It helped me empathize with those students who were still developing.” Leeson says student wrestlers need a thick skin and vast amounts of determination to succeed. “You start from scratch at high school,” he says noting no one learns wrestling outside of school like they do with hockey. And he says, it’s brutal. “It’s simply what you weigh and if you’re the last man standing.
“In wrestling, everyone gets beat. You have to pick yourself up and get going again; it’s something like life.”
It was a lesson Leeson taught his athletes, like Moya. She was one of the girls at East Lambton who chose to go to LCCVI when the high school closed. “We all chose wherever Mr. Leeson went… there was no wrestling in Forest.”
Moya says Leeson “made you feel good about what you were doing, even if you didn’t win or if you were the best… everything was fair. He was hard on everyone – in a good way…it didn’t matter if you were crap – pardon the language – or great, he was hard on everyone. But if you wanted to be part of the team, you were part of the team.”
That, Moya says, made them work hard. And they did well. The very first year of the OFSAA girls’ Wrestling Championship, LCCVI’s team, coached by Leeson won against much larger schools.
It was one of three championship banners LCCVI claimed in the OFSAA ring.
“There is not another program around here that can boast that,” says Leeson as he sits among his memorablia in the wrestling room.
But perhaps the more important legacy is the impact Leeson had on the students. Through the years, Leeson has kept in touch with the students he mentored.
“It’s rewarding when the relationships you made continue to this day.”
He’s proud to say that most of his wrestlers went on to post secondary education including a few who became doctors. Moya says looking back, Leeson encouarged her “a common, lazy student” to continue her education even if it was just to continue wrestling.
Leeson says the lessons learned in wrestling made those students successful. “
They are determined and set goals and it may involve sacrifice to get those goals… they have ‘a stick with it’ mentality and then you can pretty much do anything.”