BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Everybody knows it’s hard to keep a good man down.
But it’s also hard to keep a good man in the down position.
And it’s hard to pin a good man’s shoulders to a mat.
And it’s hard to prevent a good man from pulling a reversal.
Now come on. You didn’t think a little thing like a neighborly zoning-ordinance dispute would keep Henry Killian and the Lebanon County Mat Club down.
Following a turbulent year or so, the Lebanon County Mat Club has landed on its feet, and is now headed in a new, more stable direction. Lebanon County’s only instructional wrestling club – and one of the premiere athletic training clubs of any kind locally – has some new digs.
After 17 years of being headquartered at Killian’s residence in Annville, the Lebanon County Mat Club has moved to the corner of Third Avenue and Weidman Street, in the east end of the city of Lebanon – the former home of the Evergreen Inn nightclub. Home is where the heart is, and Killian and the Lebanon County Mat Club have got plenty of that.
“The building is materialistic,” said Killian, the founder and operator of LCMC. “The kids in the room assure the future success of the club. This is a vessel. It’s a good vessel. I like it. But if this fell through, we’d start up somewhere else. We’d practice in the parking lot if we had to. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
“I love the sport,” continued Killian. “When I was a kid, something like this wasn’t around. If there was, I would’ve been there.”
Killian actually started the Lebanon County Mat Club in his family room last century, before erecting a practice building on his Annville property to accommodate the club’s growing popularity.
But last year, one of his neighbors took offense to the fact that Killian’s property wasn’t zoned to host such a building, and reported him to municipal authorities. From that, Killian was forced to find a new home for the Lebanon County Mat Club.
“It’s amazing how one person’s bad attitude can change a good thing,” said Killian. “It’s not about being a good wrestler. It’s about work ethic. You can’t hide in wrestling. That’s what I like about wrestling. Why someone wouldn’t like that, I don’t know. It was for the kids.
“It hurts me to talk about it because the set-up there was perfect,” Killian continued. “A bunch of parents were upset. But we were like, ‘Let’s take all this negative energy, turn it into a positive and go find ourselves a new home’. We came in and put a positive influence in the middle of the city. We’re still not done. We just have to get through this next meeting with the city, which is a formality.”
Killian didn’t need a lot of space or a lot of amenities for the club’s new functional digs, but that didn’t make LCMC’s search any easier. Killian put the word out that he was looking for a new home and checked out 12-15 different locations throughout the county before being contacted by the owner of the building which at one time housed one of the top hot spots in the city.
“No, I never thought about discontinuing the club,” said Killian, affectionately know as ‘The Big Dawg’. “It crossed my mind that maybe I wouldn’t find a place that’s doable. I’m about anyone who wants to learn my style, that want to be with me. This club does things a little differently. We’re a family. To do it right, you can’t do everything. There’s a lot of things involved here.
“I didn’t think about that until this place,” added Killian. “That’s what I heard from everyone: ‘Things happen for a reason’. I don’t know if I’m into karma stuff, but if you need proof of it, this is it.”
And the Lebanon County Mat Club family certainly rallied around the cause. Once the new building was acquired, members volunteered their time, sweat and hard work to clean up, reorganize and open the facility for what it is a time-sensitive pursuit.
“It was a last-minute thing,” said Killian, who’s been operating out of the new facility for about two months now. “I was looking at a building in Jonestown, which would’ve taken a lot of work. I got a call that there were some guys at the old Evergreen who were looking for someone to come in. This place was a mess. The ceiling was down. So I called the Friends of Lebanon County Mat Club, and we got 30 people a night cleaning up. We had to get rid of everything. They called me on a Friday, and at lunch time I said, ‘I’ll take it’.
“It’s killer,” added Killian. “They (the wrestlers) just kept coming. We’re back in business. We’re back competing, and that’s our biggest selling point. Truthfully, we could be twice as big. We started in the first week of September, and that was the biggest dilemma. We always get a jump on everyone, but couldn’t this year. But we caught up quickly. We’ll inevitably tweak what a wrestler’s favorite stuff is. But go out to a local match and you can pick out our kids in the blink of an eye.”
Lebanon County Mat Club is made up of about 50 wrestlers of varying ages and skill levels – elementary to high school – mostly from Lebanon County, and beyond. The goal of the club is to provide competitors with training and instruction that goes beyond what they get with their school teams.
“If I was doing it for myself, I probably would’ve quit,” said Killian. “A lot of the kids you see in the pictures we have hanging around the club are now grown people. I never thought about quitting at all. I don’t live off of this. Everything we get in, we turn around and put it back into the kids. I don’ think I ever lost faith in people who were coming, because of all of the support I was getting when we were closed. Everybody was saying, ‘when’, not ‘if’. It was never ‘if’.
“It brings me back to Lebanon,” continued Killian. “I wrestled at Lebanon High in the mid (19)70s. I thought that was really cool. Lebanon’s a program which has struggled. If I can help to keep their numbers up, we look at it as a goal.
“We do the same workout if there’s three kids in the room or a hundred kids. I don’t get excited if there’s a bunch of kids in the room, and I don’t get bummed out if there’s a few kids ion the room. Practice is practice. That’s what gets me excited. But I tell the kids, ‘If you don’t have enough time to study, you don’t have time to wrestle’. I’d rather be a scholar-athlete than a dumb jock.”