ON THE COVER: Player to watch - Breylin SmithREAD ONLINE
Greenbrier finds success in first year of high school wrestlingOriginally Published March 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 22, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.
A year ago, Greenbrier didn’t have a high school wrestling team.
But now the Panthers have an individual state champion and a sixth-place team finish in the 1A-5A division of the Arkansas High School State Tournament.
They also have a committed cadre of volunteer coaches and high hopes for the future.
“A couple of years ago, I started lobbying the athletic director and superintendent to see if we could add wrestling,” said Craig Noel, the team’s volunteer coach and the father of freshman Nick Noel, who won the 126 weight class at the state tournament recently and finished his season 42-1.
“There was no interest, but you stay persistent, go to the school board. Last winter, they finally agreed and said, ‘We’ll let you guys have the program, but you don’t have a building to practice in, money or a coach.’
“So we said, ‘OK.’”
Craig Noel, who had wrestled in high school in Florida, moved his family to Greenbrier five years ago. Nick is his oldest son, but with Jimmy, a seventh-grader and youth state champion; R.T., a fifth-grader and another youth state champion; and Rhett, a third-grader, the coach will be a fixture in the program for years.
“I told them I’d be around for a decade,” he said.
Nick Noel said wrestling under his father is a positive experience.
“I like having my dad in my corner,” Nick said. “It was a good thing.”
Assistant coach Jayson Howard, another volunteer, also has a son in the Greenbrier school system. Howard owns C3 Wrestling Academy in Conway, “a supplemental wrestling program for the high school level and a developmental program for the elementary and middle school level,” according to the academy’s website. He previously served as an assistant coach at Conway High School.
Nick Noel defeated Tyler Easter, a senior from Gentry, in the championship match at 126. Grant Webb, a sophomore, finished runner-up at 106; his brother, junior Jacob Webb, took second in 120. Hunter Goss, a sophomore, finished fourth in 145, and Wyatt Daniel, a freshman, was sixth at 113.
Others on the Greenbrier roster were freshmen Hunter Glover at 132, Austyn Brawley at 182 and Brady McCoy at 195; and sophomores Tyler Hardin at 106 and Eli Crenshaw at 120.
Greenbrier scored 114.5 points at the state tournament, behind Maumelle, 288.5; Beebe, 195.5; Central Arkansas Christian, 192; Little Rock Christian, 156.5; and Bismarck, 117.
Nick Noel also won the 126 classification at the Tournament of Champions, which pitted state champs from Class 1A-5A against those from Class 6A-7A. He beat Rodney Ensley of Fayetteville.
Craig Noel said he never expected such success in the Panthers’ first year.
“We had a three-year plan to be able to contend, knowing we’d have some young guys coming up who would be able to give us depth,” he said. “Obviously, success draws attention. We’ve had other kids approach us saying, ‘We want to come out next year.’”
Part of the challenge has been introducing an essentially new sport.
“They don’t know what it’s about, so we need to be able to have some home matches just so they can see it,” coach Noel said. “We dropped so many kids because you have to be in shape.”
He said Wyatt Daniel is an example of the learning curve.
“We assessed him at 145 pounds as a freshman; he was overweight,” coach Noel said. “We talked to him about how he was not going to be competitive at 145 because he wasn’t strong enough. He gave up all soft drinks and fried food and gradually lost weight, and he wrestled at the state tournament at 113 pounds and finished sixth.
“You’ve got to be committed and disciplined. These kids are teenagers. A lot of them don’t want to have to work hard and get in shape, but the ones who do really seem to enjoy it.”
The Panthers hosted two home matches at Panther Pavilion and teamed with Central Baptist College to host dual high school and college tournaments. They worked fundraisers and sought sponsorships.
Nick Noel started wrestling at age 13. He had begun playing football, but he wanted to try something else. He joined the Mighty Bluebird youth wrestling program in Little Rock, where he worked under Pat Smith, the first wrestler to win four NCAA Division I individual national championships (Oklahoma State), and Greg Hatcher, who founded the Mighty Bluebird athletic program.
“I was doing [mixed martial arts] and stuff, and I wasn’t really going anywhere with that,” Nick said. “When I started wrestling, I liked it. I noticed I got stronger, and I started getting better. I started really liking it.”
Although he said when the season started he never expected he’d be a state champion, it didn’t take long for him to see his potential.
He was 38-1 heading into the state tournament, his only loss to a senior from Kentucky at a Jonesboro tournament.
Four matches later, Nick Noel was a state champ. And he probably won’t be Greenbrier’s last.
None Donna Stephens can be reached at .