Thursday, July 25, 2013
- by B.B. Branton
In Feb. 1988, a standing room only crowd at UTC's Maclellan Gym watched as Cleveland High School senior Lionel Langford won a state championship in his last match in a Blue Raider singlet.
Thursday afternoon inside Shiloh Baptist Church in Cleveland, another overflow crowd paid tribute to Langford - a wrestler, husband and father - who passed away last week at 43.
Hall of Fame wrestling coach Al Miller was sitting in the corner cheering on his wrestler in 1988 as well as today.
"Lionel was a free spirit to say the least and one who had to try things his way - at least at first," said Miller with a smile.
"Eventually he would come back around to our (coaching staff) way of doing things, but he definitely had a mind of his own."
Pre-Match Donuts: Miller tells the story of Langford's pre-match meal at a tournament in December of his senior year.
"We were at a tournament in upper East Tennessee and I made the mistake of giving each wrestler meal money for the day, instead of having team meals together," Miller stated.
"Lionel was a returning state runner-up from 1987 with a real shot at winning a state championship."
One of three wrestling Langford brothers - along with Howard (1986 state champ) and Shelton plus nephew Quantel - Lionel was not on top of his game that weekend and fell short of winning the tournament.
"I found out later that Lionel's 'pre-match meal' was a bag of white powdered donuts which led to his loss to a good Science Hill wrestler," Miller stated.
Fast forward to the 160 pound Region 1 finals in early February where Langford tech falls the same Science Hill wrestler (Brian Pardue), 25-9, and wins his state title the next weekend (Pardue placed fourth).
"LIonel had the talent, but at times he just needed the coaches to keep him on the straight and narrow," Miller said.
A wrestling champion and military vet who made his family proud, did push the envelope at times, but knew all too well the need to stay focused on the eternal straight and narrow all the way to the final whistle.
Mat Notes: Lionel's son Caleb (has graduated) and Micah (rising senior) have wrestled for Alan Morris at Walker Valley ... Lione's nephew, Quantel, wrestled for Cleveland in the mid-1990s.
contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com