Masanek milestone 48 years in the making

“Having 400 wins is something you don’t do by yourself,” said Masanek, 72, who is in his 48th season at the helm of the program he founded in 1965. “I’ve been very fortunate to have outstanding assistant coaches throughout the years, plus outstanding kids that are willing to work hard to make themselves good wrestlers. We really have good kids. I can’t say enough about them.”

Many of Masanek’s former wrestlers made the trip to Lebanon to witness history as the Indians beat La Salle 54-15 and Lebanon 59-7 to improve to 14-0 this season and 400-82-7 in Masanek’s career.

Among those in attendance was 1992 FHS grad Willie Wineberg, who went 144-2 in his career and became the first Division I wrestler in Ohio history to win four state championships.

“He’s tough, but he’s probably one of the most caring people I know,” Wineberg said of Masanek. “His toughness comes from his desire to teach life lessons. At the end of the day, he really cares about the kids.”

To prove that point, assistant coach Jason Laflin, who won a state title under Masanek in 1989, tells the story of a game he and other coaches sometimes play during practice. It’s a game Masanek never loses.

“We’ll go over to the wall and find the most obscure, random name and then ask him, ‘Coach, do you remember so-and-so from 1960-whenever,’ ” Laflin said. “And he’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, Vernon. There was this one time Vernon didn’t make weight,’ and he’ll go on and tell this story about the kid.”

Masanek’s ability to connect with and motivate kids from generation to generation is a big reason for his longevity and success. He is a member of the Ohio Coaches, Butler County and Fairfield High School halls of fame and has coached 198 league, 124 sectional, 41 district and nine state champions while preaching loyalty, dedication and hard work.

“Coach not only taught hard work and dedication, but showed it himself,” said 2001 grad and state champion Mike Wahoff, who was on hand to congratulate his former coach.

“At summer tournaments, he would be there taking notes while most other high school coaches weren’t,” Wahoff added. “I remember seeing Coach at a cookout one July. I hadn’t seen him in a few months, and he pulled out his notepad with notes from a match I had in April. He always put in the time to help make you successful, which is why he has been so successful.”

With a nod to his past, Masanek was wearing the belt the team bought him for his 100th win some 30 years ago.

“It’s on its last notch,” he joked before returning to the crowd of people waiting to offer congratulations, including his daughters Mikie and Charlie.

The person most on his mind as he soaked in the special moment was one who wasn’t there, his wife Stephie, who is battling an illness.

“I look at 400 and about how she’s been there all the time, sitting in the stands,” Masanek said. “To do this for so long, you’ve got to have a wife who supports you. I could never have done this without her and my daughters, who allowed me to share my time with the boys.

“I’m very fortunate,” he continued. “She’s my best pal, my best coach, my soul mate. I know she’s going to enjoy this, too.”

The balance of career and family is something Wineberg — now a husband, father and high school coach himself — said is the reason Masanek’s legacy will extend well beyond the walls of the warm, humid wrestling room where he has spent so much of his time.

“My whole life I’ve tried to be a lot like him, the way he coaches, the way he built a program, the person he is,” Wineberg said. “It’s pretty amazing what he’s accomplished in his life.”

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