When Bryan County High School decided to field a wrestling team four years ago the idea was met with a certain degree of skepticism.
While Richmond Hill had an established program which had won a state championship and produced several individual champions there was no history of the sport in north Bryan County. There was no wrestling program at the recreation department and none in either the elementary schools or middle school.
So, where were the wrestlers going to come from and did anyone really care about the sport?
Those fears and concerns have been put to rest as the Redskins program is one of fastest growing in Class A with 54 boys and girls competing —second only to football in number of participants, said Coach Zach Ledbetter -- and with a full-fledged middle school program now in place there’s no sign of a slowdown.
Ledbetter’s boys team took a 14-4 record into a match with Charlton County on Wednesday night. In their first year as a full-fledged team the girls are 10-2.
Wrestling is not new to girls but this is the first year the GHSA has limited girls to competing only against girls. In previous years girls have been permitted to wrestle boys in matches.
The Redskins will be looking to challenge perennial region champion Screven County when they host the region duals (team) tournament on Jan. 13. The top four teams advance to the state duals which will be held at Heard County for the boys on Jan. 19-20 and at the University of West Georgia for the girls on Jan. 26-27.
“Between the male and female teams, it’s been a very successful season so far,” Ledbetter said. “The girls have had a great showing so far.
“They (girls) made school history this year by winning the first traditional (individual) tournament in program history for either our girls or boys teams,” Ledbetter said. “They placed first in a tournament at Westside Augusta.
“We’ve got 10 girls on the team,” Ledbetter said. “The fact girls can’t wrestle against boys has helped us get more girls out and it has caused some parents to encourage their girls to wrestle.
“Winning that tournament is something we’ve used to keep the girls going and to motivate the boys. All of our girls have a good chance of qualifying for the sectional tournament.”
The most experienced girls are junior Alyssa Burnsed and senior India Mainer who have been wrestling since they were freshmen and they both have beaten boys in matches.
“Alyssa has been our biggest standout,” Ledbetter said. “We’ve taken the girls to two individual tournaments and she placed second in both of them. She’s 10-2 and both of those losses were in championship matches.
“It’s been fun to see her grow and develop, to see her confidence level go up and to see her go out and win,” Ledbetter said. “India is coming along, too.
“India was second at the Westside tournament. She got a late start because of getting her (physical) assessment done. But she’s catching up.”
All of the other girls are new to the program, Ledbetter said, with the exception of Alexis Clark who was on the team last year but didn’t wrestle due to a broken arm.
The boys’ success is no surprise as the team returned starters in nine weight classes, six of whom were sectional qualifiers and one state qualifier in Jayden Lee at 126 pounds.
Lee is off to a great start with only one loss and he, like several others, got a late start due to the football team’s success. Junior Riley Shuman (113) is another who Ledbetter said is having an excellent season as he and Lee have taken on leadership roles.
“Football’s success was great,” Ledbetter said. “But we’ve now got a full roster and we feel good about where we are. We can tell the difference between now and the start of the season. We’ve got eight guys who played football.
“Some of these guys, like Graysen Kirkpatrick (144) for example, have really stepped up while the football guys were out. One of the good things about the growth of the program is we’re spread out over several grade classes.”
Senior Jett Lewis at 285, sophomore William Patrick, junior Jorge Jimenez, senior Carlos Arias and senior Raul Parrish join Lee and Shuman as Redskins for whom Ledbetter has high expectations.