Wrestling: Schoonmaker's Law team a program

Matt Schoonmaker considers himself first and foremost a Jonathan Law wrestler.

Yes, he graduated from the school in 1991 after being a two-time Class M finalist with 85 career victories, including a 19-0 dual match record as a junior. And yes, Schoonmaker took his talents on the mat to Southern Connecticut State, where he wrestled for three seasons.

But, he has coached the Lawmen first as a volunteer and then as an assistant from 1991-2005. Schoonmaker is in his 11th year in charge, and in that span has a city-best 223-101 record.

Why Law is a wrestling program rests on his shoulders. The definition of program: A plan of action aimed at accomplishing a clear objective, with details on what work is to be done, by whom, when, and what.

With its next victory, Law will reach the 550 win mark (549-311-4).

How did that transformation from being a team to being a program take place?

“I've tried to place an emphasis on the idea that we are a family and how the bonds and relationships that are forged while wrestling at Law will carry over throughout their lives. No matter where they are in life they can always come back to two things — their family and Law wrestling,” said Schoonmaker, who has coached 11 of the 15 wrestlers in program history who have achieved 100 career wins.

In his heart, Schoonmaker not only sends a wrestler out to compete but is there with him.

“I often times would refer to myself as an old school coach with that player-coach twist,” he said. “I’m emotional and am not ashamed of it. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I've evolved my style over the years, and while the losses still eat at me I'm better at dealing with them and putting them into perspective.”

Law has produced eleven 100-plus match winners, nine All State wrestlers, four state champions, three State Open champions (Daryl Arroyo, Keith Arroyo, Chris Kenworthy) and three All New England wrestlers (Jeremy Malin, Kenworthy, Rob Lonergan).

Schoonmaker’s 2008-09 class won 106 matches in four years. He has coached five of the eight 20-plus win seasons produced at Law, including the 2006-07 team that finished 33-6, a state mark for matches won.

Ten Law wrestlers have gone on to compete collegiately, including two females. Samantha Rebentisch, the second ever female to wrestle at the State Open (second best in state with 77 victories), is currently wrestling for Division II Lindenwood Belleville University in Illinois.

“The athletes that I have coached I have always looked at as my family,” Schoonmaker said. “The program was my family until I met my wife Jennifer and we started our own. It was the constant in my life for so many years there was nothing else.

“I am so fortunate that Jennifer supports me in my coaching. She doesn't at times quite understand my passion for it, yet still supports me in doing it. Having three sons Will (9), Declan (6) and Talon (8 months) isn't easy when I'm gone on a Saturday. My in-laws have been a huge help. Our two oldest boys come with me to meets and tournaments and I hope to someday be coaching them as they both love to come to practice and meets.”

Until then, Schoonmaker will make do coaching his extended family.

“If we can stay somewhat healthy and continue to improve I see no reason why we won't finish up with a winning record (now 10-10),” he said of his current crop of Lawmen. “We may fall short of twenty wins and the loss to Cheshire really takes the (SCC) B division title out of our hands. I’m hoping we can have one or two (wrestlers) place top four at SCC's ,and I'm hopeful we can have two or three place at the Class M's and qualify for the Opens.

“The future is definitely very promising with our youth (8 freshman, 12 sophomores). If we can continue to draw incoming athletes we can get back to the level that I would like to see us at which is twenty-plus wins, top ten consideration, placing highly in our divisional and every couple of years being in the mix for a state championship.

“I'm very proud of everything that we've done over the last eleven years, especially when you consider that many of the best programs in the state have youth and middle school programs. While Milford does have a great youth program run by Dave Esposito and Adam Luth, and by Billy Coelho before them, we've only on occasion (at Law) had wrestlers come in with any significant experience.

“My best teams were kids that only wrestled, and learned to wrestle, with me. Honestly, that's an amazing concept to understand. Three or four-year wrestlers competing and beating kids that have wrestled for in some instances twice as long.

“I've said it at least every season since I've been a head coach, and know I've already said it this season — I wouldn’t want to coach at any other school, even if I could walk right in and win a state championship. I would want to do it at Law. We were on the verge once and I know we can be there again.

“That's something I would very much like to help the program attain. I feel as if no matter how much success we have, that not attaining that championship would leave me feeling as if I hadn't done enough for the program.”