Wildcat mat men create history

By PATRICK MacCOON

Posted 2/14/18

Before embarking on the first wrestling season ever at Polk County High School, volunteer coach Angelo Giansante traveled up to Cumberland College in Kentucky to make a dream possible.The head park …

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Wildcat mat men create history

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Before embarking on the first wrestling season ever at Polk County High School, volunteer coach Angelo Giansante traveled up to Cumberland College in Kentucky to make a dream possible.

The head park ranger at Hiwassee/Ocoee State Park, who is the only state champion wrestler ever from La Vergne High School (1997), was excited to get the program off and rolling.

“We found our mats we practice on via a Craigslist add and took out a loan to go buy them,” said Giansante, who is also a military veteran and a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee to Middle Tennessee State University's wrestling program. “Polk’s colors are red, white and blue and when we got there to see the mats for the first time they were red and white with a big P on them. This team was a complete grassroots effort we are extremely proud of.”

With only two wrestlers out of the 14 starters to have any experience, the start to the season for the Wildcats was a tough challenge. 

“Feeding them to the wolves” was how the first couple of months were best described.

However, a newly acquainted group continued to battle through the early learning stages and listened to their coaches. 

“Polk County has been known to take very little and make the most of what they can,” said head coach Robert Combs. “These wrestlers have taken a start-up program and made us competitive in just one year. They have practiced and put so much in to achieving incredible success in just a short time.”

Recently at the Region 2 A-AA tournament, the Wildcats provided quite a statement as they finished third out of a total of 12 teams. Hixson and Alcoa were the only two to finish ahead, which are programs vast in history.

PCHS finished .5 points ahead of typical powerhouse Chattanooga Central for a top three finish.

When the TSSAA Class A-AA State Traditional Championship begins Friday, Polk County will have half of its starting lineup out under the bright lights of the Williamson County Expo Center.

Among those first-year wrestlers to advance to the biggest stage are: Josh Emerson (113), Cameron Dwyer (126), captain Zack Hammock (138), Justice Dykes (145), Carson Dillbick (152), captain Nolan Morris (182) and Devin Hollingsworth (195).

“This is an inspiring group of young men who have battled and fought to achieve something pretty amazing,” Giansante said. “Imagine any other sport, basketball or baseball, and take kids who have never played it and make them compete at the high school level. Those are overwhelming odds.

“These kids have had zero quit in them. I can tell them to do something 100 times and they are going to keep driving and pushing. Me and our other assistant David (Bradford) are both successful college wrestlers, so we’ve been in the ring with them trying to teach them all we can.”

With big dreams for the program from the start in an area surrounded by powerful programs such as Cleveland, Bradley Central and Walker Valley (39 combined state championships, over 200 state medalists), emotions have been on full display this postseason.

“I cried when these boys advanced to state,” Coach Combs said. “This is the first time for a lot of them to commit to anything bigger than themselves. Seeing them walk around the mats representing the top four wrestlers from our region was special. They went from no experience to having a chance to compete at state.”

The community has rallied around the team as well.

State Sen. Mike Bell has paid for the hoodies and sweats Polk County’s wrestlers will wear at the state tournament. Donations have flowed in with T-shirts, socks and gear bags. Even the local bank has offered the team money to buy food to take on their trip to Franklin, while a local auto shop has helped support the team as well.

For senior captain Nolan Morris, the trip will be one to remember for a lifetime. His coaches consider him the “nucleus” of the lineup.

“We all have worked hard for this in our first year,” Morris said. “The coaches have been amazing and the hard work has paid off. I want to live in the moment as much as possible at state. I am very excited for it and want to leave it all in the ring.”

The moment will be bigger than any of the wrestlers for the Wildcats have ever seen, as they will be in the mix with the best through the entire state in a crowded, college-like atmosphere.

With the chance to represent their school and community for the first time, the group is humbled by the chance and thankful for those who helped make it possible.

“We want to thank our school superintendent Dr. (James) Jones and especially our school principal Ronnie German for being there for us all the way,” Combs said. “We also want to thank the people in our community for helping us financially. We hope this is just the start of wrestling in Polk County and hope to get a middle school feeder program going next year.”

In a season that will go down as one of the most memorable in Polk County sports history, the Wildcats will get the chance to experience a moment this week that will surely take their breath away.

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