Former East Ridge wrestler Chris Bird has been hired to coach his alma mater's wrestling program.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm excited about the opportunity and the program, and I'm excited about the guys. It isn't like I don't know them. I coached them in middle school. I'm really looking forward to getting these kids ready to win state championships."
East Ridge principal Zac Brown said Bird met the standards he had set.
"I was looking for someone to advocate for the kids, someone that has a passion for the sport and someone with a commitment to East Ridge," Brown said. "He meets all three of those criteria."
Bird was a four-year starter for the Pioneers and reached the state finals in 1997, the year before the public/private split into two TSSAA divisions. He was coached by Brad Jackson.
"I wrestled for him when I was in peewees. I never really knew another coach till I wrestled at UTC," he said.
While at UTC, Bird wrestled numerous weight classes for Mark Leen, Frankie James and then Terry Brands. He wrestled at 149, 157, 167, 174, 184 and even 197 pounds. One of the biggest compliments he ever received came from the late Ralph Zigner, a heavyweight Mocs teammate. Zigner said Bird was the type who wanted to be in the lineup, that he just wanted to wrestle no matter where it was.
He has been something of a coach-in-waiting for several years but cleared a major hurdle last September when he completed an eight-year Naval Reserve commitment that included a 10-month tour in Iraq.
"I applied for [the job] and crossed my fingers," he said. "One of the big things in doing this is that my wife [Joey] was on board. My family is ready to embrace this job. When the opportunity first came up, I told her I couldn't do it without her. Her response was, 'Let's do it.' Her support was paramount."
While Bird may continue to teach at the middle school, he has assistant coach Grant Blaylock in the high school. He said also that veteran East Ridge coach Charlie Goss would remain with the program and that he intended to have Zach Goss on the staff.
"Charles will be my conscience and my adviser, and Zach has a passion for good technique. He has helped me at the middle school, and he knows these kids," Bird said.
Bird is replacing Chad Laxton, who is taking over Soddy-Daisy Middle School's program.
"The program is in a great place," Bird said of the Pioneers. "They finished fourth in the [2013 Class A/AA] state duals and there were two [individual tournament] place-winners, and one of those is returning."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.