'He loves wrestling': Schaefer the go-to man for state tourney

Photo by k

Photo by k

When first-year school Mountain View was starting its wrestling program, head coach Jim Gassman knew who he could count on to start the booster program.

When state tournament director Bud Hennebaul has a question or can't figure out how to get something done, he knows the man to call.

Who do Gassman and Hennebaul seek for advice or help? Gary Schaefer, a longtime Lilburn resident and president of the Atlanta Takedown Association.

"Having him offer his guidance and experience was a burden off my shoulders," Gassman said. "Gary is one of those guys you hope never retires because people benefit so much by what he gets done."

Schaefer has been the ATA's president since 1995 and is partly responsible for bringing all five classifications to the Arena at Gwinnett Center for the traditional state wrestling tournament. This is the fifth year the tournament is being held at the Gwinnett Arena, and with more than 250 teams and 2,016 wrestlers it's the largest wrestling tournament in the country.

"This stuff wouldn't go on without Gary Schaefer. He works his butt off doing this stuff. He puts together everything," Hennebaul said. "I'll call Gary and say 'Hey, we need another clock, and he'll call me back 15 minutes later and say we got one. He's a behind-the-scene guy that doesn't get enough credit."

With last weekend's snowy weather conditions that canceled the state sectional and forced a schedule change at this week's state meet, Schaefer would have preferred to stay behind the scenes.

"I thought I was going to have to get a phone stitched to my head (last) Thursday night and all day Friday," Schaefer said. "It's been interesting, but we'll be right where we need to be."

As ATA president, Schaefer is responsible for everything at the state tournament except the mats. Anything from clocks, mat carpets, ankle bands, stop watches, T-shirts for workers, it's all on Schaefer. The busiest time for him is state tournament week, but throughout the year he holds ATA meetings at Peachtree Packaging in Lawrenceville, where he works. He's also a board member for the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

"If I were ever a CEO for a company, he would be the first guy I hired to make that company run," Hennebaul said. "There's not 10 people that can do what he does."

Schaefer does all of this because he loves wrestling. Schaefer's sons Todd and Tim wrestled at Berkmar in the 1980s. While most parents are involved with their kids' sports throughout high school, Schaefer didn't stop staying involved when they graduated.

"He's the epitome of what supporting of wrestling should be. He does it for the kids and he loves wrestling," Hennebaul said. "He just loves to support wrestling. He's a giver, that's the best way to describe him."

Because the state tournament features all of Georgia's top wrestlers, it has become a great recruiting tool for college coaches. But what Schaefer is most proud of is the experience it provides. He has a hand in building high school memories. For the state's top wrestlers, competing at the Arena is one of their top memories of high school.

"Probably the neatest thing about it for probably 98, 99 percent of them is it will be the biggest thing they will ever be involved with," Schaefer said. "When they hit that Arena with 12 mats out there, we start the finals and got the spotlight, it's just the biggest thrill for most all those kids. It's the biggest event they've been to anywhere."