Any inaugural sports season presents its challenges, and such was the case for Emanuel County Institute’s wrestling team. David Hodges led the Bulldogs on the mat for the school’s first-ever season, and he can attest to the struggles along the way. Moreover, he looks back on the 2021-2022 season with fondness, seeing progress and glimmering bright spots of success.
In an email to The Chronicle on Friday, Hodges called the inaugural season a “whirlwind.” According to the Bulldogs’ head coach, anything that could happen did happen.
“This was definitely a year of firsts, but every moment along the way was memorable,” he said.
His team first met last summer. Heading into their first scheduled practice, ECI was met with opposition. They didn’t have a mat to practice on, and one couldn’t be ordered in time to make the circled date.
“I held a meeting with the athletes, explained the situation, and asked what they wanted to do,” Hodges said. “We could either cancel practice for the summer, or we could practice on the grass. It was 100 percent, ‘Coach, we will practice on the grass!’ That was the moment I knew we could take anything thrown at us.”
Then, everything began piling on.
The 2021-2022 wrestling Bulldogs started practicing the Monday immediately after football season concluded—which happened to be just one day before their first match.
“You know that saying, ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire?’ Well, it was an understatement,” Hodges said.
The first official match pitted ECI against none other than Toombs County, a successful and established wrestling program out of Class AA. This same match would be the first ECI wrestling had ever been a part of or witnessed live and in-person.
A handful of Bulldogs would give ECI something to hang their hats on collectively, though. Jake Grimm, for example, was the first wrestler in ECI history to win a match (by forfeit) and score team points for the Bulldogs.
ECI’s first pin came from Brayden Barwick. Creed Sanders was the school’s first middle schooler to ever win a match by pin.
That was enough momentum to carry the Dogs into another juggernaut of a match in Screven County. Going into the contest just one day later, the Gamecocks were the No. 1 team in Class A’s Area 3.
“In two days, we faced three top wrestling programs in our surrounding area,” Hodges said. “That alone is something to be proud of.”
The firsts, however, continued throughout the rest of the season.
On December 7, ECI took down Treutlen for the school’s inaugural team win.
Emanuel County Institute would host its first wrestling tournament on December 11, and the Bulldogs would host their first home match just three days later.
Both of these historic events—hosting ECI’s first tournament and home match—was made possible thanks to a special effort to obtain a mat on which the athletes would compete.
The Emanuel County school district graciously helped ECI with a new mat, but the same shipping issues that plague everyday shoppers hit the Bulldogs as well, pushing back the delivery.
As a result, Hodges contacted a man by the name of Don Carr. This GHSA affiliate arranged for ECI to borrow the mat used at the state wrestling tournament.
“We drove to Macon with a trailer to pick up the mat we were to borrow, and we brought it back to Twin City just in time to practice,” Hodges explained. “Our wrestling mat didn’t come in until two weeks later, just two days before our tournament at home.”
That new mat debuted at ECI’s wrestling tournament, of course, and Jesse Hirschy became the first Bulldog to wrestle on it. The icing on the cake? He won by pin as well.
“A year of firsts truly describes our year in wrestling. We might have finished the year 6–17, but the growth in our athletes was even greater,” Hodges commented.
In the vein of progress and success, Hirschy and one other wrestler, Heath Davis, went on to make it to sectionals.
“As I look back and reminisce on this season, I realize that our students would not have had this opportunity without some help,” Hodges continued. “We would like to thank all of those who played a part in this season. Thank you, Superintendent Mr. Scotty Hattaway and the Emanuel County Board of Education, for getting us started with a wrestling mat and uniforms. Thank you, Principal Anetria Edenfield, Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Manzie Broxton, and Assistant Principal Brooke Frye for the support throughout the entire process, and thank you, Michael Singletary and the rest of the Swainsboro wrestling nation, for the help you provided this year. Thank you to all the parents who allowed their students to participate in our new program, and, most of all, thank you for the support from the community that was given to our program. Even though the season is over, we look forward to seeing you next year at our home matches. Go, Dawgs!”