SHEPHERDSVILLE - After making a big splash when Bullitt Central first fielded a wrestling program a decade ago, the sport is now looking to reshape itself at the local level.
That initial splash produced a pair of regional team championships and a bevy of medal winners at the state meet for Bullitt Central. Unfortunately, that initial surge couldn't be maintained and the school is now on its third head coach in as many years.
In the mean time, Bullitt East and then North Bullitt picked up the sport. This will be the third year for the Charger program and the second for the Eagle wrestlers.
With the rebuilding at Bullitt Central and the newness at the other two schools, the sport is sort of looking for a rebirth in the county.
What will happen for the first time this season is that the teams will all compete within the county at the same time, under the same roof. That will come on Wednesday, Feb. 1 when the three teams converge on Bullitt East for a meet to showcase the sport in the county.
The local wrestling season began last week and will continue pretty much without a stop (there really isn't a break for Christmas) all the way to Saturday, Feb. 11 when the teams will take part in the regional meet at Fairdale High School.
Locally, both North Bullitt and Bullitt Central have new coaches and both of the new coaches will rely on assistant coaches to get them through a learning curve as neither has coached, not competed, in the sport before this season.
At North Bullitt, B.J. Ritter has taken over the program for the second season. The former Bullitt East football player now teaches at North Bullitt where he has been the assistant girls' track coach the past couple of seasons. He also is an assistant football coach at Male.
Ritter will be getting a big assist from Clyde Mizell who will be teaching the techniques of the sport. Ritter will do more of the conditioning and strength work while learning the intricacies of the sport himself.
That is much the same story at Bullitt Central where Mark Howell has taken over. He is a new chemistry teacher at the school after shifting over from Breckinridge County High School where he had been an assistant football coach the past eight years.
Howell is being assisted by Michael Taylor, who was the head coach for the program last year. A handful of former Cougar wrestlers are helping on a volunteer basis.
A quick look at each of the three programs follows:
The only returning coach to the sport this year is Bullitt East's Kevin Hare who started the Charger program three years ago from scratch.
As of last week, Hare had 24 athletes on the team at the high school level. Hare is also in the process of starting a middle school program and he has nine wrestlers, all from Eastside Middle School, competing at that level now.
Even with the strong numbers, Hare says that the team will not be able to field entries in all 14 weight classes. He is short in the heavyweight division now.
While the number of wrestlers is encouraging, Hare is disappointed that only ten of the team members were part of the program last season. Several wrestlers who could have returned this winter opted not to compete.
"Our first full year we did OK," Hare said of last season. "We finished .500 and we only had three kids back from the year before. I was pleased with the kids last year. They worked hard. It hurt that some didn't come back."
Hare would like to get more football players involved. That is something that football coach Darrell Vincent has said that he will push also.
"I hope to get a few of them out," Hare said. "Wrestling is a great sport for football players, especially linemen. It teaches hand placement and angles as well as the conditioning.
"Wrestling is a different culture," the coach added. "You have to teach them how to wrestle as well as how to be a wrestler."
Bullitt East has the most extensive schedule planned for the three local teams. Hare's team will compete in major events just about every Saturday including two trips into southern Indiana. That is in addition to a handful of Wednesday night events.
"You have to have mat time," Hare pointed out. "We have a lot of duals coming up. We have kids who will get 50 to 55 matches in before the regionals."
Last season the Chargers advanced two wrestlers to the state meet and picked up one win from Cole Gilbert.
"We have a couple who have a shot at that," Hare said of finishing in the top four at the regional and moving on to the state finals which will be held in Lexington this season for the first time after a long history in Frankfort. "It's tough to say how they will develop."
Hare's assistant coach is Clayton Pruitt who for a number of years was an assistant at Bullitt Central.
Howell is trying to rebuild a Cougar program that has struggled in recent years. He has 15 wrestlers going through drills now with five of those being seniors, but the program has no juniors.
"I would like to have had 20 or more out actually," Howell said late during a practice last week. "The 15 we do have are pretty consistent and dedicated. They are working hard."
Bullitt Central has been practicing in the gym at Riverview High School giving them more room than the other two programs that battle for time in the cafeteria after school.
Howell and Taylor are getting a helping hand from some former Cougar wrestlers.
"We have several volunteers that have put in a lot of time and effort," Howell said. "Some of them wrestled for Bullitt Central, but all of them have some type of wrestling background."
Bullitt Central has some smaller wrestlers to fill the lighter divisions, but Howell is thinking that he will only fill ten or 11 of the weight divisions in most meets this season.
"We have three or four who are within a few pounds of each other," the coach pointed out the coach said of some having to wrestle up at a higher weight.
Only about half of the team members were part of the program last season.
"I'm kind of learning as I go," Howell admitted. "I've been taking care of a lot of the administrative jobs. Coach Taylor has been a big help also."
Howell did not have any work with his team before practice officially started on Oct. 15. After this season, he hopes to make the sport a little more year-round with work in the weight room as well as perhaps joining a club league in Jefferson County.
The Cougars opened the season last Saturday in the Doss Duals. The team has no home matches at this point, but Howell would like to add a couple if the dates can be worked out.
After just one season, North Bullitt has had to sort of start again learning the sport after the former head coach left for a teaching job in Jefferson County.
The Eagles have 17 kids on the squad now and last Wednesday the team took 14 wrestlers to Spencer County for the first meet of the season. Spencer County is a first-year program. Ten of those 17 wrestlers were part of the first Eagle team last season.
"After yesterday, I've had three kids come up to me after hearing how exciting a sport it is and that they were going to come out," Ritter said during picture day last week. "I could use at least one of them to fill in a spot where we didn't have anybody (in that weight class)."
Ritter is learning on the fly as he has no wrestling experience, either as a competitor or coach. He has turned over the technique part of the coaching to Clyde Mizell who wrestled while growing up in South Carolina. He also wrestled in the military as well as some AAU competition.
When he played football at Bullitt East, there were times that the coaches laid out mats and the team members would get down and compete against each other, but that was far from competitive high school wrestling now.
Over half of the North Bullitt wrestlers are seniors as Ritter has eight on the team this season.
Against Spencer County, North Bullitt started in a 24-point hole as they could not fill four weight divisions. Ritter needs both small guys and big guys.
"We're strong in the 150 to 160 to 170 weights," the new coach said. "At heavyweight we need some."
That group includes seniors Seth Rausch and Ethan Mizell who could battle for top spots in the region in the 175 and 180 weight classes while Josh Ward is strong at 132-pounds. Ward was second in the state junior-varsity meet last season.
North Bullitt is using an old mat that it is renting from Bullitt Central so the green and gold are wrestling on maroon and gray at this point. That mat will be moved to the main gym twice as the Eagles have home matches scheduled for the first time - on Jan. 4 against Holy Cross and again on Feb. 4 against Spencer County.
"I'm learning as I go," Ritter admitted. "I didn't realize how intense it would be and the adrenaline rush. I've caught on. I enjoy it. The more kids we get the more enjoyable it will become."