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Where

AHS Wrestling Team Talks Benefits & Passion For the Sport

Photographer: Amy Payne

For some families, certain sports are just in their DNA. Such is the case for Zach Errett, a Martinsville native who grew up watching his father coach high school wrestling.

“I’ve been around the sport my whole life,” Errett says. “As a kid, family vacations were spent at wrestling tournaments.”

When he was in college, Errett joined his father as a coach at Martinsville High School. After graduating from IUPUI, he was hired at Mooresville High School where he taught, coached and later became the athletic director. He missed being in the classroom, however, so after 11 years at Mooresville, he joined the staff at Avon High School (AHS), teaching Integrated Chemistry & Physics. This is now his second year as head coach of the AHS wrestling team. In addition to coaching, Errett also referees both international and national events and has refereed the Olympic games in 2012 and 2016. 

“I’m in a leadership position with United World Wrestling, which is the international federation for wrestling that governs what’s done in the Olympics and World Championships,” says Errett, who has become a seasoned traveler. For instance, last fall he flew to Argentina for the Youth Olympic games and to Budapest for the World Championships. He also spent time in Romania and South Africa.

“I was in four continents in a matter of two months,” says Errett, who enjoys experiencing different cultures but also appreciates watching the best wrestling in the world on a regular basis.

“It’s beneficial for when I come back and coach my kids,” says Errett, who is grateful to Superintendent Margaret Hoernemann and AHS Principal Matt Shockley for their support of his schedule.

He also feels fortunate to get the opportunity to travel to locales that are not popular tourist destinations such as India and Nigeria.

“So many of us take for granted having clean water and access to electricity,” Errett says. “I remind my students how fortunate we are to be able to walk down the hallway and fill up our bottles with clean water.”

A number of the students on this year’s wrestling team have been in the varsity lineup all through high school. Though this is a senior-heavy team, the rest of the team is strong, too. In fact, five of the athletes advanced to the state tournament last season. When Errett looks back on last year’s state tournament, however, it’s not the wins or losses he remembers but rather the memories made. For instance, during the state tournament in Indy, the team found a room at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse that they made their own.

“We camped out in there and had the best conversations about the silliest of things like whose mom makes the best PB&J sandwiches and the proper technique for making them,” Errett says. “One time between rounds the kids cut the lights and made shadow puppets on their phones. These are the things that made the experience so enjoyable.”

Errett also recalls how the morning after state tournaments, 28 kids showed up at IHOP for a hearty meal and lots of laughs.

“That’s the part I enjoy the most,” Errett says. “The winning and being successful is great, but those types of bonding experiences is what makes it all worth it. Those are the times I’ll always treasure.”

There are no “try-outs” in wrestling, per se, though only the tough ones survive the demanding 2.5-hour practices.

“Our training is difficult, and it’s not like you can hide because in wrestling you’re always in motion,” Errett says. “If they can make it through practices, they’re on the team.”

That team consists of three levels: junior varsity, varsity and varsity 2 (which is made up of students who also attend competitions).

Wrestling is a physically demanding sport. Not only do athletes have to engage in difficult maneuvers but they also have to manage their weight. Errett admits, however, that the AHS wrestling program does not advocate giant weight losses to get kids into the lowest possible weight class.

“We changed our mentality to train harder rather than focus on the numbers on the scale,” Errett says.

Then there’s the mental toughness it takes to compete on the mat. Because although wrestling is a team sport, athletes have to perform individually.

“Anytime you have a sport that’s one vs. one, that’s mentally challenging because there’s no one out there competing with you, which means you can’t fall back on someone else,” Errett says.

The students know that all too well.

“Wrestling isn’t always fun, but it’s is always satisfying when you know you put everything that you had on the line,” says sophomore Tyler Conley, a state qualifier last year.

Errett commends his guys for doing a great job of balancing fun and fierceness.

“These kids are hard workers and awesome competitors who push one another to do well, but they support the group, too,” Errett adds. “When you have that combination of support and competitive spirit, it bodes well for the team.”

Nathan Conley, a senior and two-time state place winner is grateful for how the sport has helped him adapt to overcoming life’s struggles.

“If you don’t adapt, you’ll be stuck at the same level,” Conley says. “But if you choose to adapt and overcome, the sky is the limit on what you can accomplish.”

Junior Ray Rioux, a two-time state place winner, agrees.

“Wrestling taught me that anything worthwhile isn’t going to come easy,” he says.

Wrestling teaches everything from discipline to perseverance to character building to time management as athletes learn to balance school, practices and competition, often year-round since so many athletes stay in shape and compete during the off-season in a variety of regional and national competitions throughout the spring and summer. USA Wrestling is by far the biggest one. Last year six AHS students went to Fargo, North Dakota, to compete at the Cadet Junior Nationals at North Dakota State University. It’s a huge event with more than 1,000 students in each age group. Students also compete at Super 32, the nation’s best pre-season high school wrestling tournament.

“They wrestle against some of the best kids in the country,” says Errett, noting that often several of their students get recruited by a variety of universities. Two-time state champion, senior Asa Garcia, who has verbally committed to wrestle at IU next year, likes the sport because it opens up opportunities he says he otherwise wouldn’t have had — like the ability to travel and meet people from all across the country.

“Other benefits I’ve gotten from wrestling are an understanding of hard work, an affordable college education and many lifelong friends,” Garcia says.

Errett and his wife, Jill, have two children: Bailey (9) and Ethan (6). The family has gotten used to Zach’s crazy travel schedule.

“They’re old enough now that they’re on the verge of getting their passports so maybe I can take one of them with me when I go places,” Errett says.

Still, the children stay plenty busy with swimming, soccer and yes — you guessed it — wrestling. You just can’t mess with sports DNA.

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