Photo: West End’s Braison Howard (wearing gray) competes against Springville as assistant coach Payne Stancil, teammate Donovan Fulmer and head coach Wes Reid (pictured, from left) look on during a high school wrestling tri-match on Tuesday, Jan. 9 in Ashville. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
When Wes Reid arrived at West End High last year to put together the school’s first wrestling program, he was realistic about expectations considering the team’s dearth of numbers and experience.
“We have three juniors and a freshman, but the majority of our team is seventh and eighth graders who’ve never wrestled before,” said Reid, a 2009 Etowah High graduate. “They’re all brand new to the sport, which really takes about three years before everything starts to click. This is not an instant gratification sport. It’s not like football when you can walk out on the field and pick it up pretty quickly. You really have to earn success in wrestling, and in most cases, that’s going to take time.”
Reid has extensive experience in the sport, assisting Wynn Knight at Southside and Kyle Routon at Arab.
“I’ve been really blessed to have the opportunity to learn from two really good coaches who showed me the ropes,” said Reid. “We won the state duals meet when I was at Arab, and that really inspired me to keep at it.”
Reid traces the genesis of the West End wrestling program two years ago when he was still at Arab. He borrowed a few of the school’s wrestlers and wrestling mats and put on an exhibition for elementary school students in Walnut Grove and Altoona. When Reid arrived on campus last year, he recruited those youngsters who attended the event, along with a few sophomores.
“I had the three older kids in my class, and I was able to talk them into [joining the team],” said Reid. “So we had a foundation from that point on. Being so young, we’re really depending 100 percent on technique right now. Wrestling is a tough sport, and kids quit all the time, so I try to make it as fun as possible.
Our varsity [matches] have been a pretty rough go, because a lot of the time we’re going up against seniors who have been wrestling since they were four years old. So we’ve been trying to make it not all about wins and losses. If my guys compete hard and have fun, then they’ll be more willing to stay with it until they’ve experienced success down the road a bit.”
Reid was pleasantly surprised when the 2023 Patriots wound up winning several individual matches along with all of the team’s home dual meets. In addition, Sophomore Hunter Abercrombie qualified for the AHSAA state meet in Huntsville.
“That was pretty cool for someone to make state in the first year of the program,” said Reid. “It kind of set the bar and showed the other kids that they could compete at that level.”
The program’s junior varsity is also making strides, as the Patriots recently placed third in a tournament at Lincoln.
“When I got here, I really didn’t think we’d place as a team in a tournament for years,” he said. “I didn’t even have that on my radar. I think that’s because those guys are getting so much experience at the varsity level. Most other junior high kids don’t get because there is no room for them on their schools’ varsity roster, so that’s a positive right there.”
Due to the lack of upperclassmen this season, West End must forfeit the weight classes above 175 pounds, which put the onus on the lightweights. Reid pointed to eighth grader Braison Howard at 120 pounds as a standout.
“Braison’s on fire. He got voted Most Outstanding Wrestler from the other coaches a few weeks ago at a tournament and came in third a few weeks ago at a tournament in Ranburne. He’s got a bright future.”
Reid pointed to assistant coach Payne Stancil, a 2018 West End graduate and former quarterback of the school’s football team, as an important part of the program.
“Payne has been a huge pick up for me and he has been so much help.”
West End competes in Class 1A-4A Region 7 along with Cherokee County, Madison County, New Hope, Susan Moore and Randolph.
Reid appreciated the support from the communities of Walnut Grove and Altoona.
“I’ve walked into the best community in terms of support,” he said. “The parents have gone above and beyond in terms of being helpful. That makes it so much easier on me and my assistant coach (Payne Stancil). My principal (Ron Daugherty) has been super supportive as well.”