Wendell Weathers is stepping down as wrestling coach at Ooltewah High School but only to step into administration as the school's new dean of students.
"It's hard to tell this particular group of kids that I'm no longer going to be their coach, because I feel very close to them. They've been a pure joy," he said.
Weathers arrived at Ooltewah 13 years ago, giving up a two-year investment at Rhea County to join the Hamilton County school system in which his father, Tom, spent years as the football coach at Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy.
"I wasn't sure about going anyplace else, for I really liked Rhea County and felt they liked me," he said. "You don't just leave a place where you feel appreciated, but getting back into Hamilton County appealed to me."
What Ooltewah also came to appreciate was the coach's drive.
"When I interviewed with [then principal] Mr. [Ed] Foster, he said something that really stuck," Weathers said. "He said, 'We need a guy who will build a good program, not just a good team.' I left that interview thinking of nothing but those words."
Ooltewah finished third in the AAA state duals in 2007, the year he was named TSSAA wrestling coach of the year, and reached the duals finals in 2008.
Weathers succeeded wrestling veteran Danny Gilbert as the Owls' coach, and Gilbert remained with him for three years as his assistant. Other former Weathers assistants include Ryan Cooper, now East Hamilton's head coach, and Chris Bird, now the coach at East Ridge.
"I fell in love with Ooltewah wrestling, Ooltewah High and our community," Weathers said. "My wife Michelle and I have built a house here. We raised our kids here. I never looked at wrestling and Ooltewah wrestling as a job, for it has been a passion."
Former Soddy-Daisy coach Steve Henry, who is among the state's wrestling icons, was one of Weathers' early mentors.
"He made an impact," said Henry, now an assistant principal at Soddy-Daisy. "Yes, Danny preceded him, but not just anybody could step in and stay on that path. I'm proud of him. I think he's done a good job with the wrestling program, and I think he'll do a great job in administration. He's passionate in everything he does."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.