Friday, February 22, 2013
- by B.B. Branton
“Coach Ed Woodham talked to me for 30 minutes about why I shouldn’t quit and I guess it all made sense as I stayed with the sport. No telling what would have happened to me if I had walked away, but it probably wouldn’t have been good.”
-- Hall of Fame Wrestling Official, Danny Gilbert
He was a long-haired, street-tough East Ridge sophomore looking for a reason to quit.
But Pioneers wrestling coach Ed Woodham took a page from Winston Churchill’s famous 1941 “Never, Never Quit” speech and refused to give up on the 98-pound Danny Gilbert in the mid-1970s.
“Danny told me that he was going to quit the team because he didn’t want to cut his hair and needed a part time job after school,” said Woodham.
“I let him out of practice for that one day to make some spending money raking leaves, but expected him back at practice the following day.”
Listed number three on the team’s three-deep depth chart at the lightest weight behind Terry Snyder (a member of the 1972 state championship team) and former county junior high champ Rocky Teal , Gilbert had a change of heart, hairdo and attitude, did return to the squad and in two years was a state champion.
“Coach Woodham talked to me for 30 minutes about why I shouldn’t quit and I guess it all made sense as I stayed with the sport,” said Gilbert. “No telling what would have happened to me if I had walked away, but it probably wouldn’t have been good.”
Gilbert soon beat both guys in his weight class for the varsity spot at 98 pounds and registered a pin in his first varsity match.
“My first win was in front of the East Ridge student body and when the crowd cheered after I pinned my opponent I was hooked.
“I told myself ‘I can get use to this (crowd cheering),’” Gilbert said with a laugh.
Hall of Fame: Woodham, who will be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night as part of the class of 2013, has had a habit of not giving up on kids over the years as he coached the Pioneers to state wrestling titles in 1967 and 1972.
Also versed in the rules of team handball, the former Univ. of Chattanooga football player from the mid-1950s molded a Pioneer national championship squad in the mid- 1970s and an adult national title squad a decade later as Gilbert was a member of those handball teams.
Gilbert took a couple of pages from Woodham and Churchill’s “playbook” as he coached his alma mater to the 1991 small school duals state championship.
“That was definitely a Cinderella, ‘never, never quit’ season in 1991 as defending state duals champion Chattanooga Central beat us really bad in the regular season match,” stated Gilbert a hall of famer in his own right, inducted into the Tennessee chapter, National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008.
“But we switched our lineup around for the region finals, was able to neutralize as best we could their studs, pulled off the big upset and the next week we were state champions.”
On Monday night, Woodham, Gilbert and several other Pioneer alums will gather to swap old war stories and also remind each other, no matter the odds to never, never quit.
contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com