Red Fox wrestling has a place for everyone
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
Winning is a tradition for athletics programs at Hartsville High School, but even among the storied Red Fox record books, Coach Michael Lynch’s wrestling program is a standout success.
After taking over the program six years ago, Lynch’s squad has won six straight Region 6 – 3A championships and he hopes to keep that winning streak alive for his varsity team, and for the small fry scrappers that comprise the next generation of Red Fox wrestling.
In addition to coaching the HHS program, Lynch works with about 20 kids aged 5 to 12 in a youth program based in a local dance and fitness studio. These little wrestlers are learning the sport and getting used to competition at an early age, which will hopefully make their transition to team sports seamless when the time comes.
Interest in wrestling was sparse when Lynch began, but he’s worked to increase his numbers and now has enough varsity wrestlers for two teams. This is due largely to the establishment of feeder programs for middle school and elementary school kids. By the time these kids reach Hartsville High, they have several years of experience, base level fitness, and legitimate grappling skills.
The success of the wrestling program has attracted athletes from other sports, and several of Lynch’s varsity wrestlers also play football for the Red Foxes. Some of his kids, however, seem to have found their true athletic calling on the mat.
Wrestling has provided unexpected benefits for some team members, like Zeyad “Zeus” Elshanaf, who went out for wrestling after missing football tryouts. Before making the wrestling team, he admits to a certain laxity about completing homework assignments, but some straight talk from Coach Lynch and a desire to succeed at this demanding sport spurred him to try harder. Zeus says wrestling really helped with his conditioning and strength, and won him a cadre of new friends to boot.
“Before this, I had a few friends, but now the whole school knows me and most of the guys on the team are my friends. We do a lot of stuff together and that’s really cool,” he says.
His nickname of “Zeus” was given to him by teammates who have a little trouble pronouncing his Egyptian given name. He doesn’t seem to mind; the ribbing is part and parcel of a hard knocks sport like wrestling, where athletes learn to respond to a challenge with resilience and fair play.
“I get slammed on my head sometimes, and that’s hard. But it’s fun, too… just not the getting slammed on my head part,” says Zeus.
Another teammate, Alonte Ellerbe, overcame a serious impairment to make the team. Ellerbe is legally blind, but he says wrestling offers him a chance to be part of a team by employing his natural abilities – size, quickness, and strength – and minimizing reliance on eyesight.
“Other sports like basketball and football, I can’t get into, but this mostly involves smartness and strength,” says Alonte, who first became interested in wrestling as a fan of the more theatrical professional version practiced in the WWE.
“I liked to watch it on TV, but this is actually more fun than on TV. It’s real,” says Alonte.
Coach Lynch points out that visual impairment isn’t a hindrance to success in wrestling, and neither is gender. Briana Jordan, the leading lady on the HHS wrestling team, has won state championships three years in a row. Though she originally wanted to learn boxing, a visit to her doctor’s office – where Coach Lynch works as a nurse – turned into a recruiting trip and Briana found herself wrestling. She’s now ranked fifth in the nation among high school girls and travels with the South Carolina state women’s wrestling team.
Briana’s parents, Corey and Priscilla, say that in addition to improving their daughter’s physical conditioning and providing academic focus, wrestling could provide a pathway to higher education through athletic scholarships – which could come in handy since Briana wants to become a doctor. Also on the horizon, a possible tryout for the U.S. Olympic team and a trip to Japan.
Locally, finding regular competition is a bit of a challenge. Female wrestling programs are not available in all schools, and Briana sometimes ends up wrestling boys, which can end in tears.
“Some of them end up crying when she pins them,” says Priscilla. “The military school in Camden won’t wrestle her. The coach said that if she beats them, they’ll never live it down.”
Coach Lynch and the Jordans both say they want more girls to try out for wrestling, since the sport is growing and opportunities for advancement and reward are particularly rich at the high school level and beyond.
Hartsville High School will begin state 3A tournament competition on Feb. 7, hosting Berkeley. Two victories would advance them into the lower state playoffs, where they might have a chance to avenge a loss to a tough St. James team.