Pictures of past championship football teams line one side of the
corridor and are working their way up the other side.
Nic Shields passes beneath them everyday on his way to wrestling practice.
Maryville, he will tell you, is a football school. The passageway to
the wrestling gym inside James Campbell Gymnasium bears witness to 10
state crowns the Rebels have won through the years, including the last
three in a row.
"If you play football, more people are going to acknowledge you," Shields said.
Two years ago, the Maryville 145-pounder was a member of one of
those football teams. That winter, with wrestling
already going full tilt by the time he got there, Shields went on to place third state tournament. He knew, he said, he had to make a choice.
"I said, Wow! If I put more time into this sport, maybe I could win it," he said.
Two years later, Shields, along with three of his wrestling teammates, is poised to do just that.
The region champion Rebels will take part in the TSSAA State Dual Wrestling Championships this weekend in Clarksville, but its the individual tournament later this month in Chattanooga where Shields, Landon Hall, Blake Ridenour and Jeremy Hendricks are likely to make the greater impact.
Combined, the Rebel foursome are 133-6 this season, with Shields, on pace to shatter both school and county records for career wins, setting the pace at a sizzling 40-1. Hall, who last season became the first wrestler in school history to reach the state finals, is 32-1 at 189 pounds, with Hendricks, 145 pounds, 23-1, the 130-pound Ridenour 38-3.
The Duals are first, Shields said.
"We want to represent well as a team and make sure we show we have a good program, which we do," he said. "With the team tournament, its all about the team. If coach needs me to bump up a weight class, Ill do it."
Afterward, its on to the region individual tournament in a weeks time. There, Hall, Ridenour, Hendricks and Shields will each be returning champions. There, having seen the best the Soddy-Daisys, Bradley Centrals and Tullahomas have to offer at this weekends team tournament will have them well prepared for the road ahead.
Few know that road better than Shields.
"Hes on target to get the school record," Humphrey said, "and theres a county record as well."
Shields raced through his first season of high school wrestling two years ago to finish the season at 40-3, following with a duplicate mark as a sophomore. With 120 career wins against seven losses to his credit, Shields has proven, in many respects, his decision to focus on wrestling to be the right one. Still, he wonders.
Friday nights during football season are tough, he said, Maryvilles last two trips to the football state championship game especially so.
"Thats when it hurts," Shields said.
If he had it to do over again, though, hed make the same decision.
"Im glad I did it, especially this year, if I accomplish my goal," Shields said. "They (former football teammates) know how much wrestling means to me. They knew it was my better sport. They were pretty supportive of my decision."
Hall, a linebacker on the football team, found it impossible to surrender either sport. The Rebel middleweight has been able to make the transition from football to the wrestling mat like few others during his career.
The odds are against them this weekend, he said.
"Weve always been a good team at region (duals) and struggled at state," Hall said.
It only helps to fuel the fire for the individual tournaments to follow. The preparation the duals afford is invaluable.
"Itll help because youll wrestle guys that you wouldnt see otherwise," he said.
"Our aim when we get there is to get a look at some better wrestlers and get some good competition," Hendricks, a junior, said.
It can be a little overwhelming for first-time participants, he added.
"If youve never been, it can get a little scary," Hendricks said.
Maintaining a balance between the team and individual tournament is tougher this year than most, Humphrey said.
"If I were to choose (a priority), I would put it on the individual tournament," he said. "Some of these kids, though, worry more about what we do as a team.
"Weve got a pretty good program. We want to get to the point where we can say we want to compete for a state (duals) championship."
Adding a wrestling team photo to the wall alongside those for the football champions is the goal of everyone wholl be returning next season, Hendricks said. It isnt going to be easy. Chattanooga-area schools have a long and storied history in the sport. Maryville, making its third trip to the duals in the last four years and seventh overall, is drawing closer each season.
"Were starting to catch up to the intensity level," Hendricks said. "It all comes down to how you do at regions. You have to give a good showing at regions and youve got to be ready."
Tennessee High School Wrestling Poll
The Tennessee High School Wrestling Poll is primarily a measure of dual meet strength with some consideration to individual tournament strength. Votes are cast by a state-wide panel of high school wrestling coaches and are based on a maximum Power Ranking of 100 percent.
1 Bradley Central
4 Father Ryan
5 Christian Brothers
8 Montgomery Bell Academy
10 Brentwood Academy
Others Receiving Votes: Collierville, Cordova, Maryville, Science Hill, Seymour