By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published March 31, 2016
CUMMING—Pat Metz and Mike Miller, Pinecrest Academy parents who had campaigned for a competitive wrestling team at the school for nearly eight years, saw their dream become a reality this school year.
The season officially began in late October 2015. High school social studies teacher Martin Podmolik, in his fourth year at Pinecrest, filled the role of head wrestling coach during the initial season. Metz and Miller served as assistant coaches. Podmolik was a perfect fit as head coach. He was the seventh of nine kids from a northern Wisconsin wrestling, Catholic farm family.
“It was kind of expected you wrestled in that setting,” said Podmolik. “All seven boys wrestled.”
Pinecrest wrestling began to come together after Paul Parker, former head of school, and Scott Brown, vice president for advancement and operations, came to the school two years ago and began to work in concert with last year’s new athletic director Chris Kane. The value of wrestling became apparent to everybody, especially considering the school’s focus on helping to form leaders.
“This sport starts with the individual, and in order to effectively lead as a Christian leader, you have to learn sacrifice, work hard and dedicate oneself to a difficult task—all of which the sport of wrestling demands as well,” said Podmolik.
After a few weeks of practice, the school put its wrestling team on the mat against North Cobb Christian School on Nov. 19. It was the team’s first taste of competitive wrestling at the high school level. The outcome from the standpoint of scoring was not all that good, but the kids were incredibly enthusiastic despite the results. Podmolik said what was most important was that the team members came back for practice the next day, stayed with it the entire season and continued to work really hard.
There was some hope that the team’s roster would get a membership boost after football season, but that never happened so the team carried one female manager and eight active wrestlers until freshman Nick Miller, the team’s most experienced wrestler, broke his ankle in December and 182-pound wrestler Sean Pfiel broke his rib during a match.
“I hope next school year to have at least seven to 10 (players) come join the team after football season is over,” said Podmolik.
If that happens, it will ensure the kind of depth the program needs.
Freshman Michael Tropea wrestled in the smallest weight class at 106 pounds, but sometimes he moved up to 113 pounds to help the team out. Senior Gabe Underwood wrestled at the highest weight class of 285 pounds against competitors who were 40 to 70 pounds heavier in order to fill that void for the team.
Sophomore Sam Adams wrestled at the 152-pound weight class. It was his first year of wrestling. “Wrestling taught me discipline and endurance,” said Adams. “Overall I think I did pretty well, and as a team I think we exceeded everyone’s expectations as a first-year program.”
He won his first match on Jan. 13 when Pinecrest hosted its first home wrestling match against South Forsyth High School of Cumming and Mill Springs Academy of Milton.
The first and only home match was a true highlight of the season.
“The administration allowed us to offer a few incentives to students who attended the match, and it was electric,” said Kane.
He said the following day the students were abuzz and they were disappointed that they would have to wait until next year for another home match.
The team finished its season with a record of 3-8. Junior Colin Steinbach, a 145-pound class wrestler, finished in sixth place at the sectionals, the next to last stage before moving on to state competition. It was a nice testament to the effort the young team had put in during the season.
A winning season and wrestlers representing Pinecrest in state competition is something they aspire to in future years, but this season was more about convincing the wrestlers to stay with it.
“I told them this would be by far the toughest thing they would do,” said Podmolik. “It’s like life. You push yourself to be better, and sometimes you’ll lose—but you come back and keep trying to improve.”