A lack of qualified officials prompted the cancellation of the annual Black Cat wrestling tournament Saturday. Despite losing a big weekend match, Lakeside wrestling coach Randy Hill didn't hesitate to take advantage of the open date.
"Some of the kids on the team are new wrestlers, so we're going to do a little demonstration for them and for their parents," Hill said.
With a microphone in his hand and a pair of experienced wrestlers on the mat, Hill talked rookie wrestlers and their parents through a typical match including a short history and rules lesson.
It was the perfect microcosm of what Hill has been doing in Columbia County since he took over the Lakeside wrestling program.
While many successful wrestlers in the area are transplants from the North, Hill has built his share of homegrown talent.
In fact, two former Lakeside wrestlers, Marshal Hurley and Mike Ingam, were in attendance at the early-season demonstration. Both started wrestling in middle school.
"Starting them young is the key," Hill said. "It's hard because it's unlike any other sport around here. We need a parent to start a club team. That's why everyone is so good around here in baseball and soccer. They have club teams."
While local baseball and soccer stars have the option to play year-round with club teams, travel teams and high school teams, wrestlers wanting to perfect their skills don't have that opportunity.
"My two state champions who used to wrestle for me, Tim Mitchem and Justin Otis, practically lived in Atlanta every summer," Hill said. "There wasn't anyone around here."
Although the long road trips are still necessary to see top wrestling competition, the Lakeside program has grown into a harbor for the Augusta area's best wrestlers. Hill considered last season's early exit in the state tournament a down year, but he said this year's squad brings renewed hope.
Joe Brejda will be one of the top Lakeside wrestlers this season and could contend for a state title by year's end.
Hill said junior Kyle Tau and senior Lee White also have the potential to earn state recognition. At heavyweight, sophomore Jacob Smith will contend for a region title.
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