And this year, there’s new blood. Ohatchee is in its first year for a full team in the sport and will compete Friday in its first Calhoun County Wrestling Meet.
“This county is one of the toughest counties to wrestle in,” Ohatchee coach Matt Sweatman said. “It’s going to be tough, and we know it’s going to be tough. But we haven’t been intimidated and don’t quit. That’s one thing I’m really proud of our kids for, they haven’t quit all year.”
As any first-year program, Ohatchee has taken its lumps. Added to the fray is the Indians didn’t even realize a program was on the horizon until August.
That’s when Sweatman, a recent University of Alabama grad, was hired and the talk started in earnest. Ohatchee assistant principal Chris Hayes, a former high school wrestler, was eager to start the program. With Sweatman, a high school wrestler from Trion County (Ga.) High, with the experience, Hayes broached the subject.
“I thought about it for a little bit, and said, ‘Yeah, that’d be great,’” Sweatman said. “We had 18 kids show out for our first year, so we were pretty excited ….”
As a young team of mostly seventh- and eighth-graders, the Indians hit the ground running in an attempt to start building the program. Despite only having three upperclassmen, Ohatchee does have several experienced wrestlers who have competed before this year. With only two seniors, Ben Rissler and Montana Gibson, the Indians have also seen success from sophomores Kevin Griffith and Payton Entrekin.
“We’ve got four wins this year so far in dual meets,” Sweatman said. “That’s unheard of for a first-year program, to be honest. It’s been pretty good so far.”
Ohatchee also has a rare female wrestler, junior Hannah Gladden, who has been one of the Indians’ strongest competitors since transferring from Gadsden City in early January.
“Hannah is definitely above and beyond the best female wrestler that I’ve ever seen,” Sweatman said. “It’s been great for us. It’s something we didn’t expect. We wrestled her earlier in the year, and our best wrestler, Payton Entrekin, beat her 11-7. Then her parents moved to Ohatchee. I am definitely happy about that.”
The success Ohatchee has had didn’t come without help from others, though.
Sweatman did have to go far to talk to one of the best: Weaver coach Andy Fulmer. Fulmer has the Bearcats among the top five teams in the state.
But even with the best of advice, it’s still an uphill climb.
“To be honest, it’s tough to get kids out,” Sweatman said. “We’ve got seventh- and eighth-graders wrestling varsity because we wanted to start young. We look at it as a process, trying to build something from the ground up.”
Sweatman’s assistant coach, Scott Thrash, has also played a large role in helping the program. With such youth, Thrash is in charge of the youth program, as well. Sweatman said Thrash has “really been the reason the whole program got started.”
No matter Friday’s result, Sweatman said county will be something that will help the program move forward.
“It’s going to be good experience,” he said. “Our seventh- and eighth-graders know that they’re seventh- and eighth-graders, and they know that their time will come.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.