Originally created 01/16/97

Area prep wrestling finds that many holds are barred



When most people think of wrestling, thoughts of WWF, WCW, Ric Flair and the Figure Four come to mind, not the Gut Wrench, Half Nelson and Back Points.

"A lot of people have been around football, but not wrestling," said Dr. Ralph Swearngin, Georgia High School Association associate director. "It has recently grown in Savannah, but I don't why it hasn't grown in the Augusta area."

Washington-Wilkes, Screven County and Lakeside are the only area schools that field a full team of 14 wrestlers for matches.

With the closest opponent an hour away, it has been hard to get opponents to come for a match. Lakeside has 11 regular-season meets, but only two at home.

"I had two home matches last year and four this year. It's tough because nobody wants to travel to play us," said Washington-Wilkes coach Don Norton.

All three area coaches use wrestling to keep their football players in shape in the winter, but since the wrestling season starts in the first week in December, many football teams are still playing.

"I think it kind of hurts us because we went so far in football," said Screven County coach J.J. Williams. "They were banged up from football and didn't come out."

Community support is important to starting a new wrestling program.

"Our administration bit the bullet and said it was a great thing and made the commitment," Norton said. "The community supports us and we plan to have a full house (tonight) for our first home match (against Monroe Area and Oglethorpe County)."

Screven County, in particular, has had problems fielding a team lately. Williams' team was hit by the flu bug a couple of days prior to the Lakeside match in December. He had to forfeit six matches, a total of 36 points, in the match, which Lakeside won 66-18.

"After Christmas we were down 11 wrestlers; we are giving up points every match," said Williams.

Lakeside and Washington-Wilkes have been able to keep 30 wrestlers on their teams.

"Coach (Randy) Hill goes to the middle school (in the spring) and we tell them what sports we have at Lakeside and a lot of kids check off wrestling," said Lakeside coach Jon Johnson.

Hills' treks every spring to the middle school appears to be paying dividends. This season, Lakeside has six wrestlers that are middle-school age. While they can't compete in matches, they do practice with the team and gain valuable experience. Two of the Panthers' top senior wrestlers, 171-pounder Danny Bush and heavyweight Chip Pearson, have good chances to reach the state meet in early February.

Johnson is waiting for other local schools to pick up wrestling.

"If we could get the other schools to take the initial cost, then wrestling would grow. The cost just kills people," said Johnson.

It can be expensive to start a team, starting with the mats. "A new mat will cost $6,000," said John Corio, executive director of Health/PE and Athletics for Chatham County, Savannah's home turf.

To keep the costs down, "we can get some reconditioned mats for a third of the cost," said Corio.

Still, wrestling has never taken off in the Augusta area, according to Richmond County athletic director Dr. Wayne Wiggins.

"I coached wrestling in the early '70s and the only teams in the area were Evans, Aquinas, Washington County and Glenn Hills," Wiggins said. "We had trouble getting people to come out. What killed us (at Glenn Hills) was our uniforms were stolen during one summer."

The Richmond County athletic department sent out a survey last fall to see if schools would be interested in adding wrestling, among other sports, to their programs. Wiggins said he received very little support on wrestling.

According to Corio, high school wrestling has grown immensity since he came to Savannah.

"Ten of the 15 team in the region are participating in wrestling and four of six Savannah schools have programs," said Corio. "We plan to have wrestling in all six schools."

Corio credits the growth of wrestling in Savannah to being able to give smaller students a chance to compete in a contact sport.

"The different weight classes help. Small kids can excel in the sport," said Corio.

To get more interest in the sport in Savannah, Corio got 1996 Olympic champion Kurt Angle to host a wrestling clinic at the beginning of the year.