E.A. Sports Today

Starting from scratch

Wrestling mom going to the mat to bring the sport back to Anniston

MORE: https://www.easportstoday.com/2021/10/29/21-22-wrestling-skeds/

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Jessica Young is a woman on a mission. Every day at school she’s working the halls looking for a few good guys and girls to revive the wrestling program at Anniston High School.


As near as Young can figure, it’s been more than 40 years since the Bulldogs had wrestling in their athletics program, but with the enthusiastic blessing of upper-level administrators the school declared to field a team this year.

She – yes, she – will be the head coach, the only female head wrestling coach in the state. Depending on how well she knows the group of students she approaches, her pitch is fairly simple: If you’re not a cheerleader or a basketball player, have you ever thought about wrestling?

“I’m definitely starting from scratch,” she said.

And the responses from the uninitiated she approaches are about what you might expect.

“Some of them get a little excited when you talk to them about wrestling because a lot of them haven’t been exposed to wrestling, they’ve been exposed to WWE,” Young said. “There was one kid, somebody asked him about wrestling and he was like, ‘Ooo, I get to throw somebody on their neck?’ He’s gung-ho about it. He’s willing to learn.

“That has been a typical conversation. I laugh.”

She’s made some videos to help explain just what they’re getting into. The video for the girls features Ohatchee’s Hannah Gladden, the first girl to wrestle in the Alabama state tournament. The boys get to see former Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs.

So far, she has three boys and two girls committed. She’s hoping five football players join them once that season ends.

“I don’t think I’ll get 14 this season,” she said. “Next season I do foresee getting 14 or close to 14. The ones that are coming are coming with the mindset they want to be the best.”

The Bulldogs’ inclusion gives Calhoun County 10 high school wrestling programs, with only Jacksonville and the three private schools off the grid.

It’s been a work in progress. The Bulldogs have no mats, although several coaches around the county have been helping them find some while they wait for the one they’ve ordered to arrive.

They’re scheduled for competitions at ASB, Piedmont and Southside and, of course, the County Tournament. Their singlets on order are “going to be awesome,” in the school colors embossed with Anniston and Bulldogs down the side and a bulldog on the crest.

“I’ve wanted a wrestling program here because I think it would be good for our kids here at Anniston, it would give them more exposure and get them out to see different things besides just the normal basketball and football; give them more opportunities,” Young said. “Now is a great time to do it because our superintendent is strongly for it.

“He’s like really gung-ho about it. He’s was like we need a wrestling program and I said I agree with you, sir. At that point I volunteered. I said I’ll be the wrestling coach, and he was like, ‘OK, you’re it.’”

Young was bit by the wrestling bug when her two sons got involved at Weaver. DeAnthony Smith placed at state all four years in high school, winning the 125 championship as a senior in 2010. His brother, Jon Darius Young-Hampton, wrestled as a seventh grader before shifting his focus to football.

“Just watching my sons wrestle, it gave me a whole new outlook on the sport,” she said. “To see them wrestle, work out, get better, see the determination and will and strength and mindset you have to have to be a wrestler (was inspiring). You have to be a certain kind of creature to be a wrestler.

“I’m just excited about it and I can’t wait for it to get started. I’m really ready for the kids to see it, to see what going on and get others involved in it.”

And don’t think her gender is going to be an issue in the male-dominated sport.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be all that bad,” she said. “The coaches in Calhoun County are familiar with me already because of my son and some of the other coaches know me as well. I don’t think it’ll be a bad thing being the only female on the side of a mat barking out instructions. And if they do have a problem, then they’ll figure it out real soon.”

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