E.A. Sports Today

Oxford approves 2 new coaches

Wrestling, girls basketball coaches included among personnel recommendations approved by school board Tuesday morning

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — The Oxford wrestling team will be going to the mat with another Matt this coming season.

Matt Hicks, Leeds’ two-time reigning state champion wrestling coach, confirmed he was approved by the Oxford school board at its meeting Tuesday morning.

He was one of two head coaches whose appointments were included in a sweeping approval of personnel recommendations. Opelika assistant girls basketball coach Melissa Bennett will become the Jackets’ new head girls coach after being informed of her approval shortly after the meeting.

Hicks replaces Matt Tanner, who is leaving to become head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Thomas County (Ga.) Central High School. East Alabama Sports Today was first to report Hicks’ to the job last month.

Bennett succeeds Tonya Peoples who stepped away from coaching to spend more time with her family but will remain in the school system.

Hicks, a former Golden Springs resident when he taught at Cleburne County High School, also will be the middle school football coach and assistant softball coach. He will be the ISS instructor at the middle school.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s a higher level than what I’ve done; I’ve always been at a smaller school. It’s a new challenge and I don’t like to be bored. … It just seemed like a good opportunity.”

Bennett called the chance to make Oxford her first varsity girls basketball head coaching assignment a “dream job.”

She has been with the Opelika girls basketball program as a full-time coach for six years, the last four as the varsity assistant and five as the junior varsity head coach. Her varsity head coaching experience is with the volleyball team.

“I am ecstatic about the opportunity,” Bennett said. “Ever since I was in middle school and high school, I wanted to be a girls basketball coach. I’m not one of those kids who changed their minds. … Basketball has always been my passion. When this opportunity presented itself, I told them this would be a dream job for me.”

She has a connection to the community as well. Her husband is a 2005 Oxford graduate.

Hicks inherits a young team that has won the South Super Sectional two years in a row and appears poised to contend for a state championship. Rising junior Matt King is a 2015 state champion and rising sophomores Wesley Slick and Clay Webb joined him as top-five finishers this past season.

He’s looking forward to growing a program at a school that is bigger than where he came from but due diligence told him had half as many total wrestlers.

“They’ve got a really good young bunch of kids,” he said. “They have state championship potential walking the halls of the school, so how do you get them out of the halls and into the wrestling room? How do you get them to buy in to what you’re trying to do and that’s the biggest challenge there?

“It’s not a question of whether or not they have the ability at Oxford to win state championships in wrestling; there’s no question they do. It’s not like they’re not accustomed to winning, it’s not like they don’t know how. It’s getting kids back out and getting them to buy in to what I’m trying to get across to them.

“It’s like I’ve told them numerous times I’m not coming in with a bagful of dust that I’m going to sprinkle on you and you’re going to win. That’s not how this works.”

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