For high school wrestling, it’s the inspirational equivalent to what the movie “Rudy” means to football.
On Thursday, the Hawkins County Board of Education approved the creation of a new wrestling team for Volunteer High School with workouts to begin almost immediately.
Although it’s often overshadowed by basketball, many high schools in the region have wrestling teams, and in its inaugural year the Falcons intend to field a junior varsity team for the 2008-09 season.
Board members were receptive to the request for a new athletic program at one of its two main high schools, but they didn’t want the other school to feel left out. Board members were quick to point out that they would be open to requests for a new program of any type from Cherokee High School as well.
During Thursday’s BOE meeting, newly elected board member Burl Smith — who represents the District 2 Church Hill area — formally requested that the board approve the new wrestling program for VHS on behalf of approximately 48 students who expressed an interest in competing.
“I’ve had several parents come to me interested in a wrestling team, and I think anything we can do for these young boys to keep them busy is a good thing,” Smith said.
VHS Athletic Director Jim Whalen also spoke to the board in favor of the new program, along with teacher Scott Soloman, who has experience coaching high school wrestling. Soloman started the team at West Greene High School from scratch.
Wrestling is a winter sport that runs parallel to basketball, and although practice has already been under way for about a week at other schools, Whalen said the VHS team is ready to begin practice immediately upon BOE approval.
“We’ve had two schools that have offered to loan a mat for a year to practice on, and to get our feet wet a mat is probably the biggest cost for wrestling,” Whalen said.
Whalen added, “A number of schools have offered to waive any fees this year to get into their tournaments. If we would come wrestle this year they wouldn’t charge us an entry fee. We’d wrestle this year basically at a JV (junior varsity) schedule. We wouldn’t try to jump in at the varsity level. We’d be trying to teach these kids the basic maneuvers and skills that they would need.”
BOE Vice Chairman Perry Dykes said he was in favor of the program as long as CHS knows it has similar opportunities.
“I think we need to express to Cherokee that if there’s a willingness over there to start something, certainly we want to do for them too,” Dykes said. “I know (board member) Mike (Williams) has heard that there’s interest in bowling with the new (bowling alley) business here in town (Rogersville), so we want to send the message to them that if they are interested in any program — be it academic or sports — certainly bring it to us.”
Dykes noted that the CHS athletic director was contacted about a wrestling team and indicated no one has expressed an interest.
Another concern expressed about the new program was the cost. The board agreed to set aside $2,500 from the undesignated fund balance to fund expenses including the purchase of uniforms and head gear for a team of 28. That amount would also cover the coach’s supplement, which will be determined later.
Soloman had already told the board he would coach this start-up year with no pay, but Director of Schools Charlotte Britton said such an arrangement might violate the district’s contract with the Hawkins County Education Association.
The board will research the coach’s supplement issue for a month and determine at the December meeting what, if any, pay Soloman will receive.
Although the board approved the program unanimously, it was with the stipulation that the program will be evaluated before the beginning of next season to determine if it’s worth investing more money.
A new 42-foot-by-42-foot wrestling mat alone can cost about $10,000.