Youth wrestling program thrives

Published 2:35 pm Thursday, January 11, 2018

By Kevin Eckleberry

Wrestling is a sport that has meant so much to Drew Garner throughout his life.

He grew up with an appreciation for the sport, and he was one of the state’s most successful wrestlers during his time at Troup High.

Garner’s days as a competitive wrestler are long gone, but his passion for the sport remains, and he’s looking to help pass along a love for the sport to a new generation.

Garner, along with Brandon Smith, helped create the Troup Tiger Youth Wrestling organization during the spring of 2016.

In the 18 months since then, the program has grown and thrived, and there are dozens of boys and girls from the ages of four to 13 in attendance at the practices twice a week.

The young wrestlers also compete in tournaments and competitions throughout the year, and last week, they got a chance to perform in their own backyard.

The Troup gymnasium was the site for a three-team competition that included Troup, Newnan and East Coweta.

It was a special night for everybody involved, including Garner, whose 4-year-old twin daughters Blakeley and Riley are members of the Troup team.

The event gave family members of the wrestlers an opportunity to see how much they’ve learned over the past year or so, and the spectators filled up one side of the gymnasium.

Also, members of the Troup High wrestling helped out, and some of them including Scott Hicks, Darious Hanson and Byron Butts were referees.

“To having never put one of those on, and to also be a part of it from the parent side of it and a coach, honestly it was one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had as a coach,” Garner said.

The wrestlers gather in the Troup High wrestling room every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Garner said it “isn’t a day care.”

While Garner and the other coaches take their responsibility as teachers seriously, they also make sure it’s an enjoyable time for the young wrestlers.

“You want these kids to fall in love with this,” Garner said. “With my girls, I want to see them have the same love for the sport that I’ve got.”

During the twice-weekly practices, Garner said there are a core group of wrestlers who are always there and ready to work.

“The kids that we have now, we’ve got 23 to 26 kids that show up without being asked to show up,” Garner said. “They’re here consistently. And then you have the ones that are here more for recreation.”

During the competitions, Garner said it’s not about winning, rather the key is for each wrestler to improve and grow.

That’s why oftentimes Garner and Smith will have the wrestlers compete up a weight class to make things more difficult.

“Brandon, he thinks just like I do,” Garner said. “Put our kids at every disadvantage you can. That mat time is so important to wrestle with some adversity.”

Garner added that “at this age, if you can see the potential of being able to score, being able to fight off your back, being able to have hip control, you can build on that.”

Garner’s twin daughters are on the lower end of the age spectrum, and they both were on the mat on Friday night.

As is the case with all of the wrestlers, Garner said the key was finding something to feel positive about after a match, win or lose.

“I get tickled to death to see my girls wrestle the whole match (without getting pinned),” Garner said. “For them to be go on their feet, top, bottom, that matters so much to me. That time is so critical.”

Garner said when Blakeley and Riley first starting coming to the practices, they didn’t want to participate.

Eventually that changed.

“I just kept bringing them, and they’d sit down and watch,” Garner said. “And the next day they’d move a little bit closer. And then finally, they just started.”

At first, Garner preferred to have someone else coaching them, but that soon changed as well.

“I told Brandon, I didn’t want to coach my kids,” Garner said. “I sent them in there and stayed out here. One day they said daddy, we want you to coach us. I laid down my rules, and I work with them every day.”

Garner is also a coach for the Troup High wrestling team along with his brother Craig Garner, who is the head coach.

At Friday’s event, Craig Garner was an interested onlooker, and he’s thrilled to see the youth program succeeding.

“That’s the future right there,” Craig Garner said. “A lot of times, your high-school coaches get caught up in only coaching the kids in high school. You have to plan for the future, and start trying to pave the way for the younger kids to grow and learn things at an earlier age, and start instilling that love (for wrestling).”

While the youth-wrestling program is basically a year-round endeavor, Drew Garner figures with only two practices a week it’s not too much for the team members.

“You don’t want to burn these kids out,” he said. “Two days a week is plenty enough time for them to learn what we need to teach them, and still keep it fun”

OF NOTE: For more photos from Friday, check out