Joseph Hill

Joseph Hill will coach Cherokee County High School's first wrestling team beginning this fall. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

CENTRE - So far, Cherokee County High School principal Seth Neyman has had a busy summer.

Not only has Neyman been attempting to put the right people in the right places teaching in the classroom and coaching on the playing fields and courts, but he's also been doing what's necessary to establish the school's wrestling program, including ordering a 36x30-foot mat to go in the Warriors' gym.

Another major step forward in that process was the recent hiring of Joseph Hill as the team's head coach.

Hill, already a math teacher on the school's staff, wrestled at Athens High School, where he was a state qualifier. He went on to Cumberland University in Tennessee, where he wrestled for two-and-a-half years. His coaching ventures have included stops at Austin and Bob Jones high schools in Alabama as an assistant.

"It's an exciting process," Hill said. "It's always hard being a pioneer of something, but I think this is something that the kids have wanted for a while. We just never really had somebody to start it. I'm excited to get to work. I'm excited to get it started. I'm excited to see how this year goes and see how it goes through time."

Being a pioneer of a new program isn't something new for Hill. He coached at Austin during that program's first year and also helped give a facelift to the one at Bob Jones.

"(At Austin), we got one kid to the state tournament that first year, and I stayed with them for the next season and got five kids to the state tournament. Two were one match win shy of a medal, and one got a medal. He placed fourth in his first year," Hill said. "From there, I went to Bob Jones High School and performed a major facelift on that program. I helped take them from last place in 7A to 10th place in one season. We got nine kids to the state tournament and three of them got medals. Halfway through the year, I had to leave them because I accepted the job here teaching.

"Coaching-wise, I've had a lot of success, but I haven't been able to stay with a team long enough to truly build something. I've always had a lot of instant success, which I've been grateful for."

Neyman, who's also working on getting cross country and swimming programs established at Cherokee County High School as well, said he's excited to see wrestling at the school this fall. He said the school gauged the students' interest in having a program last spring. Over 20 kids signed up.

"I think our students and our fan base will be excited," Neyman said. "You've got a lot of boys idle during the winter months, and they're looking forward to it. I had been hearing that (wrestling) would be something they would be interested in. I've had a few students who have transferred in asking 'Do you have a wrestling team?'

"We've hired an excellent math teacher who just happens to have a wrestling background. I said (to Hill) 'What do you think about starting a wrestling program from scratch?' He said 'I've been involved as an assistant, but I've never started one from the ground up as a head coach.' He's all in. He's a class act and it going to be good for the people involved. He's already making a schedule."

Hill is hoping some kids who he said are "on the fence" about wrestling will give it shot when the fall begins.

"We had 22 or 23 to sign up for it, and a lot of teams would love to have half that," Hill said. "The interest is there. They seem to be excited about it. I hope it succeeds."

Neyman said because high schools are in between years of the Alabama High School Athletic Association's reclassification process, "We probably won't get to compete a whole lot as a team if we get into (postseason)."

"We'll probably go as individuals, but we'll hold some tri-matches," he said. "We're hoping to turn the Warrior Dome into a wrestling arena. The mats are ordered, so we're all in."

The AHSAA legislates that practices for the 2017-18 wrestling season can begin Oct. 30. First matches can be held Nov. 20. Section tournaments are held Feb. 9-10, 2018 in Birmingham and Montgomery. The season concludes at the state tournament in Huntsville Feb. 15-17, 2018.

"Right now, about the only matches we've got on the schedule is Coosa (Ga.) and Chattooga (Ga.) at Coosa," Hill said. "A big part of it is home support. It's new, and I want people to get into it. It's not WWE, but it's entertaining in its own right. It creates a lot of mental toughness that really helps in other sports."