The Council also declared Cleveland and Bradley County as the No. 1 wrestling town in the state of Tennessee.
The Blue Raiders earned the title of state champions for the second time in three years after winning the 2013 TSSAA Division I Traditional State Championships in Franklin on Feb. 16 and the State Duals Finals on Feb. 2.
The team was runner-up in both the duals and state tournaments in 2012, after claiming the traditional title in 2011.
Coach Jake Yost said the Blue Raiders were the only team in the state this year to secure a qualifier in each of the 14 weight classifications, with five wrestlers ranked No. 1 heading into the tournament. They outscored the second place team, Soddy-Daisy, by 85 points with a total score of 232 points. The team left Franklin for the first time in Blue Raider history with three individual state champions: Chris DeBien, Austin Oliver and Haden Hamilton.
Also earning state medals were Triston Blansit, Austin Stevison, Josh Hamilton, Aaron Lopez and Ethan West.
Businessman Allan Jones said, “You’ve got to come from Cleveland and Bradley County, Tennessee, to win the state championship and that’s all there is to it, that’s how good these guys are. They set a TSSAA record of 78 to 4. That will not be broken as long as anybody in here is living.”
In the State Duals Finals where the top 16 teams in the state met, it came down to Cleveland and Wilson Central of Lebanon. The Blue Raiders blew out Wilson Central with 13 pins out of 14 matches and a record-setting 78-4 “beatdown” to set a scoring record for the most one-sided match in TSSAA state duals history.
This is a record that brings pride to the city of Cleveland and is expected to stand for many years, as no team in any of Tennessee’s 95 counties has ever accomplished this. The next week, Cleveland beat its nearest competitors, Walker Valley High School, by more than 100 points in the regionals.
Doug Greene, assistant superintendent and former personnel director for Cleveland City Schools, helped jump-start the overall city wrestling program in 2006 by seeking a donation from the Allan Jones Foundation to start a “six-year plan” to bring the Blue Raiders to the forefront of the state wrestling elite.
AI Miller, then the coach of the Cleveland High program, also met with Jones when he was considering retiring. The goal was to rejuvenate the Kids Club, middle school and high school programs. The first step was hiring a national athletic recruiting firm.
“It all starts with the Kids Club. If you were at the wrestling building yesterday, it was absolutely packed with the next group coming up,” Jones said.
The plan was designed so that the 2006 sixth-grade wrestlers would be state champions by the time they were high school seniors in 2013, which would be the conclusion of the six-year plan. It now appears that the Blue Raiders are loaded with talent for years to come.
“This is all a six-year plan that’s moving forward. These guys, six years ago, were in the sixth grade when we started the plan and this is the result of the plan, a TSSAA all-time record,” Jones said.
The first hire was Heath Eslinger as head coach at Cleveland High School, while Eric Phillips was recruited from Miami to head up the most important part — the Cleveland Middle School wrestling program.
Mike Hatcher, a graduate from the University of Iowa, was brought in to take over the Kids Club wrestling program. Josh Bosken, who also helped Eslinger, joined him. When Hatcher left, Bosken settled into the Kids Club coaching role to ensure the Cleveland pipeline would stay full. Longtime coach Al Miller and former wrestling coach Duane Schriver were also involved.
The recruiting was so successful that in 2009, Eslinger and several of his coaches became the first high school coaches to ever be recruited to a Division I college, leaving to coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Phillips made the decision to remain in Cleveland and was elevated from Cleveland Middle School to Cleveland High School. He later became athletic director and recruited Yost.
Yost and his current coaches, Miller, Schriver, Phillips and Thomas Queen guided the team to the two state titles this year. The current Cleveland Middle School coaches are Eric Mountain, Trey Stanford, Bradley Colbaugh, and Danny Coleman.
Wrestling is a sport different than others like football, because it relies on individual achievement. Two wrestlers take to the mat and only one walks off the victor. The wrestler has no one to rely on but himself.
The city recognized that along with Cleveland High School, the city is also proud of Bradley Central High School and Walker Valley High School, which combined had three individual champions — Toribio Navarro and Robbie Clark from Bradley, plus Caleb Langford became the first ever state champ from Walker Valley. This makes a total of six individual champions for Cleveland and Bradley County.
Out of 95 counties, 42 percent of the championships were won here.