It Only Looks Easy

Blair Academy has a pretty good wrestling team. How good? About 29 straight National Prep Championships good. Find out how one of the best programs in the nation handles all that success.

Head coach Jeff Buxton talks to his wrestlers after practice. Blair Academy, a private boarding school in Warren County, has won 29 consecutive National Prep Championships.
Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger.

“Sometimes I think it would be good if we’d lose,” says Jeff Buxton, musing out loud one morning during wrestling preseason. It’s the last thing you would expect to hear from the head coach of the nation’s top-ranked high school wrestling program, especially considering that he and the Blair Academy wrestlers are riding a winning streak of 29 straight National Prep Championships.

Through three decades of dominance, the Blair wrestlers have tallied eleven undefeated seasons against the most competitive teams in the country and won nine overall national championships since 1996 alone. So why does Buxton think they should lose?
“So people don’t think it’s something that comes that easy,” he explains.

More than streaks, Buxton gets excited by hard work and commitment. “To me it’s more about improvement and kids going out and doing the best that they possibly can,” he says. After all, he adds, “it’s only wrestling. ”
Blair Academy is a small, private boarding school in the Warren County community of Blairstown; in the world of wrestling, it’s Mecca.

Athletes from around the country travel to New Jersey to seek out Buxton, 53, with hopes of wrestling under his tutelage. According to the National High School Coaches Association, Buxton has coached 145 Blair wrestlers to individual National Prep Championships; 32 of them have advanced to All-American status at Division I colleges. The latter group includes North Bergen’s Steve Mocco, who competed for the American team at last year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, and Chris Ayres, who grew up in Andover and is head coach of the Princeton University wrestling team.

“In my mind, he’s the best coach maybe on any level in the whole country,” says Ayres, whose Princeton roster includes two recent Blair graduates. But Buxton’s influence extends far beyond wrestling for Ayres. “He put me in the hardest classes,” Ayres says, “and just really pushed me to see how good I could be.”

Buxton—a National Prep champion during his Rhode Island high school days—credits Blair’s streak to year-round fitness. While his workouts are unconventional, the results are undeniable. “Wrestling is the type of sport where you need strength and explosion power,” he says, “and sometimes in the weight room you can’t develop the type of explosion you need.” With that in mind, Buxton frequently takes his kids out of the gym for “caveman drills”—dragging and flipping tractor tires around Blair’s hilly campus, tossing logs, or swinging sledgehammers. “It’s fun for the kids and they attack it in a different way,” says Buxton.

Besides coaching at Blair, Buxton has taught mathematics since his arrival at the school in 1982. He applies the same principles for success in the wrestling room to the classroom. “I try to make it exciting,” he says. “My intensity level is high in both, but I’m through the roof with wrestling.”

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