Led by head coach Tom Matheny, far left, and assistant coach Rocky Ledford, far right, the Lee County wrestling team qualified five wrestlers for this weekend’s state tournament, including Alex Davis, back left, Rashaud Anthony, front left, Devon Yelverton, back center, Britt Beshear, front center, and Colton Grove, back right. (Photo by firstname.lastname@example.org)
LEESBURG — The program was in better shape than the building. Well, what wasn’t?
But the marriage between an abandoned schoolhouse cafeteria and a group of wrestlers from Lee County has blossomed into more than anyone could have imagined.
Now imagine this: Lee County’s wrestling team has a chance to finish in the top 10 at the GHSA Class AAAA state meet in Atlanta this weekend. That’s right, top 10.
That’s never happened at Lee County, and a lot of dominoes have to hit just right and fall into place for it to happen this weekend. But that’s how far the Trojans have come, making giant strides in wrestling, which is all but a forgotten sport in this part of the state.
Lee’s Anthony makes state finals
ATLANTA — Three down, one to go.
That’s the score for Lee County 113-pound star Rashaud Anthony, who reached the finals of the GHSA Class AAA State Wrestling Tournament late Friday night by winning his semifinal match against the No. 1 seed from Clark Central in impressive fashion, 12-4.
Anthony, who was distraught after falling short of a state title a season ago, now is one win away from accomplishing his goal.
“He wanted one day off last year after he lost — then he wanted to get right back to work,” Lee coach Tom Matheny said Friday From Gwinnett Arena, where the meet is being held. “He’s worked an entire year to get to this point.”
Anthony cruised through the bracket and now faces a rematch of last week’s sectional final against the defending AAAA state champ out of Pope High, Cameron Munsey, who edged Anthony at sectionals by escaping with less than five second left to narrowly win on points.
The finals begin at 3 p.m.
Lee brought five total wrestlers to state, but Anthony was the only one left standing with a shot at a title Friday.
In a short time, Lee County has seized the sport and pinned it to the mat like no team in Southwest Georgia. Outside of the Monroe girls track team, no single team in this part of Georgia dominates a sport the way the Trojans have owned wrestling over the past two years.
They won the Region 1-AAAA title by 60 points last year, and totally trashed the region two weeks ago, beating the second-place team by 89 ½ points.
And this is a region full of some of the biggest football powers in the state, larger schools that should field powerhouse wrestling teams. And yet Northside, Warner Robins, Warner Robins, Thomas County Central and everyone else in the region is powerless against Lee County — literally and physically powerless.
The Trojans can take Northside, Warner Robins, which beats up everyone on the gridiron, and throw that wresting program to the mat, then walk away without even breathing hard.
At this rate, the way the Trojans are walking over opponents, every wrestling program in South Georgia will be looking for an abandoned cafeteria.
Honest. The old building has had that kind of impact.
“The difference for us is this building and working in the summer,’’ said second-year coach Tom Matheny, who has taken Lee to new heights after taking over for Phil Maxfield. “Coach Maxfield was a wonderful coach, but the difference now is we finally got the kids to buy into working in the summer. We couldn’t have done that without the building. Now they have a place to work in the summer, and they have really bought into it.”
Matheny than added: “This is only our third season to have an offseason. That has made all the difference in the world. The Board of Education gave us this building about 2½ years ago.’’
The building was just sitting there. It was the cafeteria for the old Lee County High School and had been vacant for years. By the time Matheny and his kids arrived, the abandoned building was a sight to see.
“There were old decks and ratty chairs everywhere,’’ Matheny said. “The Board of Education agreed to let us have it, but we had to clean it up.’’
The kids laugh at the way things looked when they saw it for the first time.
“This place was a wreck,’’ junior Alex Davis said. “We even found five dead cats.’’
They worked like dogs, cleaned, scrubbed and brought in wrestling mats that go wall-to-wall in the main room of the building. A second room was turned into a weight room, and the kids even painted the walls — red and black, of course, which represent Lee’s school colors. There’s even a huge banner that hangs outside that says “Lee County Wrestling.’’
There is a sense of pride in what they have accomplished — on and off the mat. But it has all paid off at Lee, where the kids have grown into a power.
“The summer program has been fantastic for us,’’ said senior Britt Beshear, who has a 37-9 record and qualified for state in the 126-pound class.
“The summer program helped everyone get better, a lot better,’’ Davis said. “I won between 20 and 30 matches when I was a sophomore but was a lot better this year because I busted my butt working all summer.’’
Davis is 42-17 and made it to state in the 132-pound class. Lee County sent three to state last year and made a strong showing, producing state champ Zach Thompson, who was The Herald Player of the Year in wrestling a season ago.
This year Lee has five at state, including Davis and Beshear, Devon Yelverton, who is 48-5 at the 145-pound class, Colton Grove, a junior at 195, and Rashaud Anthony, who has won 53 matches and lost only four.
Anthony has a chance to win the state title at 113 pounds. He finished in the top eight last year.
“I kind of beat myself in the quarterfinals last year,’’ said Anthony, who lost the match because of too many false starts. “I am the king of false starts, but I’m going to use what happened last year to motivate me this year.’’
They’re all motivated at Lee County, where they found a home in their own building and found pride in a program that is on the rise.
Dead cats not withstanding.