Brainerd Trio Hoping To Make Mark At State Wrestling

Sterling Featherstone Last Panther To Win A State Title

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - by John Hunt

If you know anything about high school sports in the Chattanooga area, you know that the Brainerd Panthers are best known for their ability on the basketball court.

From time to time, they will also have a pretty good football team and they've been great in track and cross country, but you never hear very much about their wrestling team.

Brainerd has a wrestling team?

Yes, in fact they do and they have three young men who will headed to Franklin on Friday for the TSSAA Division 1-A/AA state tournament.

Brainerd had one of the best programs in the state  back in the 60s and early 70s and they've produced some outstanding individuals, including six state champions.  Steve Agnew won three state titles in 1969-71 while other state winners include McCallie coach Gordon Connell in 1966, Doug Johns in 1967, Danny Brown in 1968 and Gary Mayo in 1970.

Sterling Featherstone was the last Brainerd representative to capture a title as he won the heavyweight crown in 1986.

There have not been any Brainerd state champs -- or even state participants -- since then.

But on Friday when the whistle blows for the first-ever A-AA tournament to begin, there will be three guys wearing the Brainerd singlet with hopes of making their mark on high school wrestling's biggest stage.

Marcus McMillan is a junior who'll take a 21-4 record into the battle of 182 pounders.  Denzell Robinson and Sedric Jordan are both seniors with Robinson winning 25 of 31 matches at 170 and Jordan going 26-5 at 285.

But for a program that doesn't even have a complete mat and one that scrapes to come up with enough money to even buy wrestling shoes, this trip this weekend is a big step in the right direction.

There's no question that Brainerd has talented athletes.  If the truth were known, they probably have more talent walking the halls than any other school in this area.

But for head coach David Moore and assistant Stanley Jackson, they're trying to change the image of Brainerd as simply a basketball school.

"We started the season with 12 guys and we took eight to the region last weekend at Hixson," said Jackson earlier this week before practice began.

"We've been close over the years, but we had to show up and compete.  There have been years when Brainerd didn't even show up for the region wrestling tournament," the personable coach continued.

"This has been a breakthrough year for us.  We don't have a lot of kids in the room, but if we can ride this momentum of going to the state, we just might have something we can build on.

While most high schools have strong feeder programs and kids who attend summer camps and basically wrestle year round, Brainerd does not.  Robinson is the only one who even wrestled in middle school.

"Denzell only won five matches as a freshman and he was the only one who wrestled in middle school.  Last year, we couldn't keep weight on him, but this year, he's the only one who's had trouble making weight.

Jordan took the ACT exam on Saturday morning, so he wrestled his semifinal match on Friday night.  He had about 10 minutes to warm up before his consolation match on Saturday.  He ended up finishing fourth as did McMillan and Robinson.

"He had to win that consolation semifinal match to go to state, but he's an overachiever," Jackson praised.

The Brainerd assistant has probably had more interaction with McMillan than any of the other two.

"I suspended him from the football team when he was a freshman, but I allowed him to come back later in the season after he got things turned around.  He's become an honor roll student, he's involved in ROTC and he's the captain of our wrestling team," the coach said with pride.

"A lot of our kids come from tough situations and we don't have much of a wrestling base.  But we're not making excuses, but when you come up short, you have to explain what happened.

"It's been a long, long time since anyone from Brainerd went to the state wrestling tournament, but we've earned the right to be there and we need to make our mark.

"We preach strong effort on this team as they have to have heart.  We can't afford to quit.  We may give out, but we don't give up.

"We need to win some matches over there as we need to score some points.  Now that they've created two divisions for public schools, we can compete with other schools our size," Jackson concluded.

There will be 24 individuals in each of 14 weight classes for the A/AA tournament.  Most of these young men are pretty good athletes who have made the necessary sacrifices to reach this point in their season.

The same can be said for the three from Brainerd.  Chances are good that none will win a state title, but they're rebuilding a foundation for the years to come.

Who knows what will happen if they keep working hard, but the results will show if they do.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@cmcast.net)



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