FRANKLIN, Tenn. — His peers applauded his decision and his mentor endorsed it, but that didn't make a dismissal of three starters any less painful for Soddy-Daisy wrestling coach Jim Higgins.
The first-year coach took up uniforms from three varsity starters late Thursday night or early Friday morning and sent them home.
His talk with the team was one that he'd delivered on more than one occasion during the season but one that had everybody's attention this time.
"We talked about making the right decisions, how much it meant in their futures and how much their decisions affect the people around them," Higgins said.
Starters Turbo Smith, a three-time medalist in the traditional state tournament, Branndon Hunt and Cody Grant were cut from the team. Higgins would say only that they were dismissed for "violation of team rules" and "will not be back."
Soddy-Daisy is the duals' Class AAA defending champion, but the chances of repeating and another Cleveland/Soddy-Daisy championship final took a decided turn for the worse with the dismissals.
Or did they?
"Now we have even more to prove," the coach said. "There is still a lot of respect to earn. The challenge and the task at hand haven't changed, and there's an even bigger reward out there."
He then said Soddy-Daisy would find out about its own fortitude and how much the remaining wrestlers actually cared about their teammates.
"It might be that the horses get pins instead of decisions or that the guys we're asking to step in will come up with big wins or refuse to give up bonus points," he said.
Higgins stepped in this year as the replacement for Steve Henry, who moved into administration as Soddy-Daisy's assistant principal and athletic director. Former state medalist Josh Deckelman never showed up for wrestling practice, and former state champion Jonah Smith was dismissed from the team before the Christmas holidays.
"Our society today is all about second and third chances, but the kids go and make a decision that leaves you no choice," Henry said.
"You have to persevere and Coach Higgins made the only decision there was to make. It does not reflect on the program, the school or the community. Some guys made a bad choice and everybody suffers because of it."
While neither Higgins nor Henry would confirm the misdeed(s), sources close to the program said the decision was the result of a "zero tolerance" offense. Beyond the dismissal from the team, the sources said, each faces severe penalties when they return to school Monday.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...
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