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AAU wrestling team puts emphasis on fun
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Members of the AAU wrestling team are, front row, from left, Kiptyn Davis, Tretdyn Mathis, Caitlynne Martin, Eastlan Green, George Myers, Noah Matheny, Berkley Black, Burgess Galligan, Wyatt Tanner, Blaze Pezzimenti, Ridge Green, Sampson Winfree and Braxton Wingate. Second row, Caleb Rhoady, Rance Stafford, Huck Damon, Braylen Powers, Jovian Jordan, Campbell Sutton, Locklan Cantrell, Trevion Mathis, Landon Fults and Brant Damon.

When sweat is pouring and nearly 40 kids are slamming on the mat, coach Dave Holcomb is in his element. The wrestling enthusiast happily hops from wrestler to wrestler, sharing words of wisdom he’s learned from a lifetime in the sport.

One lesson Holcomb has learned, especially when it comes to teaching those just picking up the sport, trumps all others. 

“We want them to come in and have fun,” said Holcomb, who is in his third year coaching a local AAU wrestling team. “Our coaches emphasize having fun. Our goal is to get them to fall in love with the sport. That will keep them coming back.”

His young pupils seem to be listening.

Holcomb started with six wrestlers two years ago. He saw his group grow to 19 last season. Now, the AAU wrestling team boasts over 35 wrestlers. Holcomb hopes even more are on the way.

“We’re heading in a good direction. I think having matches alongside the WCHS and WCMS teams has helped,” said Holcomb. “More and more are learning about our program. We’ve made good progress.”

Success is also putting the youngsters on the map.

Holcomb’s group ranges from first-graders all the way up to fifth grade. Those who have been in the program several years, like third-year wrestler Huck Damon, are starting to bring hardware home.

Damon won his weight class in the Clarksville Showcase and Fairview Open and has top-three finishes at several other events. At the Music City Brawl, which featured over 800 wrestlers from several states, Damon was able to take sixth in a field of more than 30. In his first match, Damon took down the state champion from Indiana.

And he’s just one of the young dominators on the AAU team.

At the Clarksville Beginner Tournament, geared toward wrestlers in their first or second year of competition, Holcomb watched on as Burgess Galligan, Anden Green, Drake Martin and Jackson Clark all won their weight classes. At the Bradley Beginner, Eastlan Green was a winner. 

The AAU team also had a slew of finishers in the top four, getting each of the locals on the medal stand.

“We’re seeing lots of improvement and lots of medal winners,” said Holcomb. “Watching the improvement is one of the best parts of coaching. Seeing the kids get better day-to-day, year-to-year. We really think this is going to help our school programs in the future.”

WCHS coach Matt Turner and WCMS coach Ben Matheney have embraced the AAU team, turning many home events into a showcase of all levels of competition locally. Many of the young wrestlers get a chance to showcase their skills, then sit back and watch in awe as the Pioneers hit the mat.

“It’s been a great thing for everybody. Being able to be there with the high school gets the kids excited and gets them interested in continuing,” said Holcomb.

Along with traveling across the state to take part in tournaments, the team has stayed local to compete against Cascade, Siegel and Coffee County. Holcomb is hopeful to have a home scrimmage featuring Tullahoma and Coffee County soon.

It would set the stage for a strong finish. The AAU team is scheduled to take competitors to the region tournament Saturday, Feb. 23 at Chattanooga Baylor. If successful there, kids can advance to the state tournament Saturday, March 2 in Knoxville.

Holcomb has hopes several of his talented wrestlers will be competing for the title in Knoxville. But most of all, he’d be content if they left each event with a smile.