At first blush, the idea of a blind wrestling coach sounds pretty strange.
But Clint Lewis does just fine in that capacity at South Davis Junior High, along with his other interests, such as singing in supper clubs, counseling day-care youngsters, working with other handicapped people and just about everything else in life.Lewis, 25, is a former South Davis student and member of the school's wrestling team. He's a longtime wrestling coach.
"It really doesn't take a lot of sight," said Lewis, who has a student sit next to him and describe moves during practices and meets. "The only problem is when you're on your feet and have to do takedowns, but there's a rule that you have to touch hands. It's really a contact sport. It's real easy to feel people's balance."
The team hasn't been spectacular, but it's done pretty well. Furthermore, students know they're learning more than a specific sport.
Former student Chris Andersen, 15, certainly thinks so. Before moving on to Woods Cross High School, Andersen used to describe the action for Lewis.
"I've learned that blindness and other disabilities aren't that much of a disability - you look past it," said Andersen. "He can still do anything anyone else does. I have a lot of respect for coach Lewis, and it's taught me that you can always learn something from anyone."
South Davis Principal Dale Rees admits that he had misgivings about Lewis at first, but gave him the job anyhow upon the recommendation of Lewis' former wrestling coach, Glen Orme.
"I said, `Why not? As long as I have some eyes and ears for him,' " Rees said. "We've done OK. The parents like him. We're teaching the kids more than wrestling; we're teaching them other things. He's a gentle person. I think the world of him."
Lewis was born with glaucoma and could see to a limited degree until about age 12, when he lost his sight entirely. The trauma was eased by a highly supportive family. Lewis today displays a healthy, upbeat attitude far cheerier than most people who have their eyesight.
"My family never looked at me as a blind person. When I lost my sight, they treated me the same. They were very sympathetic, but they didn't want me to sit around feeling sorry for myself," Lewis said. "Like everyone else, I took care of myself. I made my own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Sports also helped pull him from depression. "Being a wrestler - having done it since second grade - that had me going. I knew I could still wrestle. Athletics is a great motivation thing."
Lewis shuns euphemisms about his disability.
"I'd rather use blind than all that fancy jargon," he said. "There's no reason to sugarcoat what I am by saying, `visually impaired.' "
Lewis also works part-time as an exercise therapist with mentally retarded adults at the Work Activity Center and, accompanied by guide dog, Libo, gives motivational talks at schools and day-care centers. He frequently sings to the children and uses a blindfold to demonstrate his disability and how to cope.
"I want to be a very successful speaker. I'd like to be known for that and my music," Lewis said, adding that he hopes for a full-time career as a professional musician in three or four years.
He currently plays acoustic guitar and sings at several supper clubs, writes music and has taken University of Utah courses in "music therapy," studying music and psychology.
He's excited about the prospect of a career in the entertainment world and points out blindness hasn't stopped others, including Ray Charles, Ronnie Milsap and Stevie Wonder.
The other promising new part of his life is his recent marriage to the former Mary Augustine, who met her husband through Lewis's father, who is her boss at Mountain Fuel Supply Co. "After complaining about the men in my life, he said, `Well, I've got a son,' " she recalls, smiling.
The two clicked, and the courtship lasted 18 months. "His handicap was never a problem, even when I first met him," she said. "It's partly due to his attitude - you don't feel like he's blind."
Their wedding at St. Ann's Catholic Church was "lovely," Clint Lewis said. "When she walked down the aisle, she put my hands on the dress and let me feel how it was in front of everybody. She didn't care. She's very proud of me."
For the record, he liked the lacy, pearl-trimmed, off-the-shoulder bridal gown with its long train.
Now, it's back to school and a return to the wrestling team.
Lewis expects a good season and cooperative kids.
He knows there will be a few smart alecks who will try acting up at first, but peer pressure quickly squelches that and the team always pulls together.
"So many kids respect me, they won't let anybody cheat," Lewis said. "I'm sure I've had kids pull dirty looks and stuff, but the great thing is, I don't have to look at that."