This past school year I had the opportunity to be the head wrestling coach at Pleasant Valley High School in Pennsylvania's District XI. District XI is arguably the toughest region for wrestling in the country.
It was something I had always wanted to do, but given professional work, it never seemed to be a possibility. My father was a legendary coach. He was the head coach at my high school for 34 years and never had a losing season. My brother went into teaching and coaching and was another local school as head coach for 14 years. He did something I shied away from. I intentionally didn't go into teaching and coaching because I didn't want the comparison between my father and I.
This year was different. A former teammate was coaching football and heard the school might cut their wrestling program if they didn't get a coach. He called another teammate, whose girlfriend suggested I'd be a good candidate. They both agreed with her and after several discussions and their swearing they'd do it with me, I applied and got the job.
We did it to give back to the sport that gave us so much in life. Wrestling is unique. As a young student-athlete you have to train for hours a day to be able to compete for six minutes. You have to keep your grades up, learn good technique, manage your weight, improve your strength and conditioning and then you perform one on one in-front of everyone. There are no excuses.
I was hired very close to the season and only had two days of preseason to even see them. The first time was to introduce myself and my then two assistants. The day before the season started we coordinated a team meeting with a guest speaker via Zoom. The guest speaker was Rob Rohn of Lehigh University. Rob was an NCAA Champion in what is arguably the most amazing comeback in NCAA finals history. I interviewed him so the kids could understand how he balanced having academic and athletic success across multiple sports.
I wanted to set the tone that we were leveraging wrestling to help them be successful in life. This was an ongoing theme throughout the year.
To step back, we knew we had a big challenge in front of us. We were the third coaching staff in three years and there was no Athletic Director when we started the season as he was hired, but had not yet started working. He was also the third person in three years. There was no school budget with the exception of tournament fees and transportation. The kids didn't feel supported by the school administration.
Early goals were simple. I wanted to get 26 kids out for the team (there are 13 weights so that could mean a full JV and Varsity line-up) and I didn't want to have any forfeits on varsity, so we had to have them spread out by weight class.
We ultimately got those numbers, but it was a struggle and we had to prove ourselves to the team in order for them to recruit kids for the team.
Another challenge with those numbers is they hadn't had nearly that many kids out the past several years and as a result we didn't have enough warm-ups and singlets for them to wear. Good problem, kind of.