Jody Davis had an idea.
The wrestling program at Cathedral City High School needed a jolt of excitement, something to attract attention to a program with a proud tradition that seemed to be dwindling into anonymity.
Davis had heard about the more than 20,000 who showed up for an outdoor wrestling meet dubbed Grapple on the Gridiron last year between Iowa and Oklahoma City at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Cheerleaders were on hand. The scoreboard replayed highlights. Flames shot into the air from the field as if it were a Miami Heat game.
Davis wondered if such an idea could work in the Coachella Valley, where temperatures in November tend to be more kind than those in the Midwest.
“It was an idea I was really thinking about,” he said.
A biology teacher who wrestled at Boise State, Davis had spent three years on the wrestling staff at Xavier Prep. When the now-defunct program failed to generate enough interest to continue, he refereed for two years while looking for an opportunity to get back into coaching.
He was hired this year to lead Cathedral City’s wrestling program, and immediately revisited the idea of an outdoor meet. He floated the idea to school administrators and they were all for it, Davis said.
But before he could make it happen, he needed to drum up interest in the program. So, he began recruiting students, hyping his program without telling students he was the head coach.
“Did you hear about the wrestling team?” he’d ask with a straight face. “I hear there’s some big things in the works.”
His tactic proved to be successful. A program near extinction a year ago now has more than 30 members, many of whom are participating in the sport for the first time. As a result, the Lions’ junior varsity program is larger than its varsity, which still has to forfeit 18 points each time its faces an opponent on the mat.
Still, the progress the program has made in a year is noticeable.
“I figured if I did something different, it would hype things up and get people excited,” Davis said. “It worked.”
Once he had a team, Davis revisited his grand idea to replicate what was done at Iowa. With administrators on board, the plan was set into motion. It became official: On Nov. 30, Cathedral City would host crosstown rival Rancho Mirage High in an outdoor wrestling meet on the school’s football field. It would be the first of its kind in the Coachella Valley.
Coaches and students began promoting the event, and Beaumont High heard about it and asked if it could join in.
The meet was to proceed as scheduled until Wednesday morning, when administrators pulled the plug due to temperatures abruptly dropping below 65 degrees once the sun fell behind the San Jacinto Mountain range. The meet was instead reluctantly moved inside to the school’s gymnasium.
A crowd of more than 100 showed up for the event, which Rancho Mirage controlled with a 51-24 victory over the Lions. But it wasn’t a somber defeat. Cathedral City’s fans and wrestlers were invigorated by the atmosphere, and remained competitive throughout its matches.
Davis said he hadn’t given up on the idea of an outdoor meet sometime soon. He’s looking into doing it on a Saturday in December, or on a short school day, when he can arrange for it to begin earlier, while the sun is out and temperatures are higher.
“That’s really just one idea, but I think we’ll definitely have more this season,” Davis said. “The goal is to keep things interesting and get people talking.”
One idea Davis is starting to float? Setting up a meet inside the school theatre.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll figure something out one or another.”
Find sports reporter Andrew John on Twitter: @Andrew_L_John. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org