Staff Photo: John Bohn Meadowcreek High School wrestling coach Richard Schumacher conducts a recent practice of his team. Schumacher, a former college wrestler, is enjoying the experience of coaching a high school wrestling program.
Richard Schumacher walks around the Meadowcreek wrestling room, keenly looking at each wrestler’s move.
"What was that?," he says. "This is not ballet. Do an arm drag."
At 63 years old, Schumacher isn't afraid to tangle with his wrestlers to show them proper technique. He gets down on his wrapped knee that was drained earlier in the day to show one wrestler how to properly execute a move.
"Even though Coach Schu is kind of old, he's very terrifying," senior Alex Steele said. "Any time he tries to put a move on you, he does it 100 percent. Don't let his age fool you. His strength is unbelievable."
Schumacher was an All-American wrestler at East Stroudsburg in the 1970s. He spent 35 years in the business world, but now after retirement he's making a difference in the lives of teenagers.
In just three years, Schumacher has taken the once-doormat Meadowcreek wrestling program from obscurity to competitiveness. The program is no longer an easy win as the Mustangs are the most successful they've been in nearly 20 years. They've won four tournaments this season and their sixth-place finish at the county meet this season is the highest since 1994.
"He's breaking records from 20 years ago," Meadowcreek athletic director Don Einolf said. "He's doing things with Meadowcreek wrestling that haven't been done in a long time."
Meadowcreek opened in 1986 and legendary coach Cliff Ramos guided the program until 1994. The Mustangs were one of the top teams in the state, placing fourth at the state meet in 1991 and winning its only Gwinnett County title in 1993. The team routinely produced state placers and had a two-time state champion. That all changed after Ramos left. The program had modest success in the late 90s, but by the 2000's the program was a coaching carousel. No coach lasted more than a few years and they haven't had a state placer since 2001. The year before Schumacher took over, the team couldn't even put together a full lineup. They barely had enough members for a starting basketball team, much less a wrestling team. At duals meets they had to forfeit more matches than they actually wrestled.
"They couldn't even have a dual meet," said Archer coach Tom Beuglas, who was a longtime coach at Parkview. "They only had four wrestlers."
In the summer of 2009, then Meadowcreek athletic director Jason Dopson was looking for a wrestling coach. It just so happened Schumacher was looking for a job. He spent the previous two seasons as an assistant at state power Collins Hill, helping the Eagles to two state titles with Ramos as head coach. Schumacher was displaced from Collins Hill after the school year and once Dopson heard about it he jumped at the chance to hire someone with his credentials.
"They really hit rock bottom until Schu took over them," Ramos said. "He's done wonders over there."
Schumacher was a four-time All-American at East Stroudsburg, where he also won a national title in 1970. He was later inducted into the school's hall of fame in 1986. After college, he became the head coach at Bucknell University from 1971-73, where he was 22-21-1, which is tied for the third-most wins in the program's history.
Schumacher left wrestling and joined the business world where he spent the next 35 years until his retirement in 2008. He still stayed involved with the sport as a referee for 15 years and helped run NCAA tournaments.
But Schumacher still had that itch to be a coach, teaching kids a double leg takedown or a half nelson.
"I always told my wife when I retired, I wanted to do something with kids," Schumacher said.
He got that chance at Meadowcreek, one of the most diverse schools in the county. The school is made of 54 percent hispanic, 29 percent black, 10 percent Asian and 4 percent white. The Norcross school has a transient study body, which includes kids from low-income families. Schumacher has gone out of his way to personally help some of his wrestlers.
"I can talk to him for advice," Steele said. "He's become a second father to me."
Schmuacher's first team meeting was an eye-opening experience and showed the state of where the program was at the time.
"When I had the first meeting, the questions were 'Is there mandatory practice? Do we practice on Fridays?'" Schumacher said. "So when I answered those questions, I only had two guys that have ever wrestled come out."
At the first practice, Schumacher had about 10 kids at practice. The next day he walked the halls looking for potential wrestlers. He even went to the football team, where he was the ninth grade coach, and plucked a few players.
"I came to the first practice and saw how he was running stuff and I got interested," Steele said. "One thing I know about Coach Schu is that he is very committed to this program. Anything he says goes. I can trust Coach Schu."
Meadowcreek didn't have much success Schumacher's first season in 2009-10 with an 8-16 record. The program had its breakout year last season. The team went 27-13 in duals, tying the school record set by the 1989 team. They placed fourth at the area duals and brought home two trophies from tournaments for the first time since the early 1990s. Schmuacher keeps a picture in his office of that first trophy, a runner-up finish at the Duluth Duals. His wrestlers surround him with big smiles holding up the trophy.
"You can see the joy in everyone's faces," Schumacher said.
The program's success in just two years under Schmuacher earned him Daily Post Coach of the Year honors.
"He's changed the program from light-years. It went from Meadowcreek having a subpar wrestling team to a solid program," Collins Hill head coach Josh Stephen said. "They look like a team. You saw them at the area duals and they were jumping up and down and were excited. They were into it and want to win."
The team is 27-9 this season, tying the school record for wins with six duals left this year. They placed in the top six at the area duals this year and they've won four tournaments -- the Mustang Pride Duals, Riverside Warrior Duals, Georgia Hall of Fame tournament and the Last Man Standing tournament.
"The right person can win anywhere. I think he's doing a tremendous job," Beuglas said. "In that region it's hard to qualify for the state duals with Collins Hill, but he's done a great job. He's hosting a tournament, this summer he was looking for a middle school coach. He's doing everything he can to get that program going."
Schmuacher gets most of the credit, but he recognizes his assistant Melton Hardee, who wrestled at Winston-Salem State.
"The fact that Coach Hardee was a college wrestler and I was, I think we might have as good of a two-man coaching staff as there is around," Schumacher said, "in terms of experience and how to wrestle, teaching wrestling."
Schumacher is realistic in knowing there's still a lot of work to be done with the program. Most of his wrestlers have never seen a wrestling mat until they reach high school. He's gone from having just a few wrestlers in the room that first year to almost 30 this season.
Meadowcreek has developed a youth wrestling program, the first for the program in 20 years. Schumacher hopes that will help build more experienced wrestlers by the time they reach high school.
"I don't coach to win -- it's nice," Schumacher said. "If I do all the other things to influence them -- to do the right thing and be a good person and be responsible and accountable -- that translates into a better person. That in itself translates into winning."