How do you build and sustain a sports program?
It’s a question every coach asks as he or she prepares to take a new job and often must look for answers to on a yearly basis.
When Chiles wrestling coach James Marschka entered the Timberwolves’ athletic program in 2003, accepting a position to teach science in doing so, there were no roots. Lincoln had long been king in the city, and Wakulla just as prominent in the Big Bend.
“It’s difficult when you get wrestlers, kids as freshmen that come out and have never wrestled before,” said Marschka, now in his eighth year as head coach. “There isn’t the luxury of organized youth wrestling like soccer or baseball, regular sports. You pretty much start with raw talent or not-so-raw talent. And it’s a very tough sport. It’s tough on the body — physically, mentally, emotionally demanding.”
Even now, 10 years later, there are struggles, but there are also milestones being made. Such as last week at the Capital City Classic when Chiles had two wrestlers — senior Kevin Hilton and freshman Gavin Hoard — win championships in their respective weight classes for the first time in school history.
The Timberwolves host the sixth annual Timberwolf Duals V today, which will bring in four teams from Georgia and four from Florida to compete in a pool play-turned-round robbin tournament starting at 10 a.m.
“We’ve been second in the city for the last 10 years, but we’ve had some good points,” Marschka further elaborated. “We’re working to catch up with (Lincoln). This year, I’ve got eight first-year wrestlers in my lineup.”
One of those wrestlers, the aforementioned Hoard, became the first freshman in the 19-year history of the Capital City Classic to earn a championship from a city school. He did so in the 138-pound weight class, running his win streak to 10 and improving his season record to 14-3 on the strength of 11 pins.
“We didn’t expect for him to have the year that he’s had,” said Marschka, who first met and began working with Hoard when the youth was a third-grader. “He’s been really great, and getting better and better every week.”
Coming in at a middle weight class normally dominated by upperclassmen with bodies advanced from years of weight training and varsity experience, Hoard has shown a proclivity for success, turning a fourth seed into an exciting run through the bracket.
“We expected him to place, we just didn’t expect him to have a championship tournament this early in his high school career,” Marschka said.
Chiles’ other Classic winner was Hilton, who is now 16-1 on the season in the 160-pound weight class and whose only loss is by one point to a Louisiana state runner-up in Border Wars. He’s won nine in a row now and is coming off a season when he became the first Timberwolves wrestler to medal in the state tournament, finishing fifth.
“That just set the bar for other people,” Marschka said. “He kept working hard over the summer. He is a quiet, gentle giant. He’s strong and the hardest worker we have.”
Every coach in a program of any length or success always needs that one leader, the one who gets there early and stays late, gives everything when exhausted or injured and is determined to help in any way. For Chiles, that’s Hilton, and in the future, Marschka is convinced there will be others to continue the building process.
“You always want and hope for the best,” he said. “We would love if it was a battle every year between us and Lincoln for city champion. It’s baby steps at the time, still trying to develop. To do any (big things), we need eight really good wrestlers at one time.
“We have a really good chance of having that in two years with the group of freshmen we have this year.”