By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
WARREN – The year was 1999. Greg Mayer had recently graduated from Central Michigan University and didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
After serving as a co-head wrestling coach at Warren Woods Tower in 1998, Pat Threet directed the program alone the following season.
Although they never had met before, Mayer and Threet knew of the other through mutual acquaintances and athletics. They didn’t know it then, but soon they would team together and build a wrestling power in Macomb County from the ground up. Along the way they also would become best friends.
Woods Tower’s wrestling program was struggling when Threet took over. Warren public schools like Lincoln and Fitzgerald were far more competitive and Threet, as a graduate of Woods Tower, made a commitment to himself and the community to get the program to where it could be competitive as well.
Threet wrestled in high school, but he knew his limitations. He also knew he needed to hire someone with a strong wrestling background, one who would demand excellence.
“I didn’t know Greg, but I knew he was a phenomenal wrestler,” Threet said. “His brother (Jeff) was, too. From day one I told him we’re in this together.”
Mayer was hired as Threet’s assistant in 1999, and the wheels began turning. It took a few years but, finally, in 2004 Woods Tower won a District title. Three years later it won its first Regional. The Titans won another Regional in Division 2 in 2014 and again last season.
This season Mayer, now in charge of the program, returned 13 wrestlers, just four of whom are seniors, and the Titans are looking to take that next step past the Quarterfinal round.
“We were terrible,” Mayer said of his first season with Threet. “When I got there Pat and I had some 20 kids. At the end of the season we had nine, but we had nine hammers.
“Then we started to win some Districts. Pat moved on in 2007. He had other obligations, family and stuff. I’m really grateful to him for giving me that chance.”
Mayer was an MHSAA individual champion wrestler at Lincoln, one of the county’s top programs. In 1994, his senior season, the Abes won the Class A team title with Sam Amine as the head coach and Mayer was the individual champion at 130 pounds.
Mayer enjoyed a successful four-year wrestling career at CMU, one that was highlighted by a fifth-place finish nationally when he was a junior and a seventh-place finish his senior season.
Upon graduating Mayer, like many 23-year-olds, didn’t have a plan.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to,” he said. “I was doing a camp in Warren and Pat was in his first year (1998) at Woods Tower, and he said to me if you come over I’ll put a good word in for you to get you a teaching position. So I took it and convinced my brother, who was the head coach at Roseville, to coach the youth program.”
Mayer didn’t stop there. He convinced two other Lincoln graduates, Russell Correll and Mike Milunovich, to join his staff. Like the Mayers, Correll and Milunovich were MHSAA Finals placers at Lincoln. Ian Fredlund, a Woods Tower graduate, also is on staff.
In a division dominated by Lowell and St. Johns (each has won four MHSAA team titles over the last eight seasons), Woods Tower is the new kid on the block attempting to disrupt the status quo, and made the Quarterfinals last season as the sixth seed before falling to third-seeded Gaylord 31-26.
The Titans finished third at the prestigious Detroit Catholic Central Invitational earlier this month. And with all of the experience back, hopes are high.
Among his top wrestlers is sophomore David Stepanian, ranked No. 1 in the 103-pound division by MichiganGrappler.com. At 112 is another sophomore, Chaise Mayer, the coach’s nephew. At 119 is senior Elijuh Weaver, the reigning Division 2 champion at 112 pounds.
Six years ago Woods Tower joined the Macomb Area Conference Red and is the only Division 2 school to compete in the MAC’s top division. Not only did Mayer want his wrestlers facing the best, it’s become a numbers situation within his program.
“We carry almost two full teams,” he said. “Being in the Red guarantees my guys they will wrestle in every (division) meet. We’ve never won the MAC Red and to be honest, that’s not our goal. Our goal is to win a state title. As long as we’re progressing, I’m happy.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Elijuh Weaver, top, works toward flipping his opponent during last season’s Division 2 Quarterfinal match against Gaylord. (Middle) Greg Mayer, left, and Pat Threet from a team photo early in their tenure at Warren Woods Tower. (Below) Mayer directs one of his wrestlers last year at Rose Arena. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)