TIFTON — Tift County’s combined middle school wrestling program can now be called state champions. The program won its first ever state title last Saturday.
“If you’re not a wrestling person, they beat Jefferson,” said Tift County Schools Superintendent Adam Hathaway at the Board of Education workshop meeting Tuesday,” and Jefferson, when it comes to wrestling, if you’re anywhere in the southeastern United States, Jefferson High School is the wrestling school. 7A, single A, it doesn’t matter, Jefferson is where you go if you’re a wrestler, and our middle schoolers beat Jefferson for the state championship in middle school. I’m telling you, they went up and slayed a giant, that’s for sure.”
Tift won over Jefferson, 53-35, in the championship round, according to flowrestling.com. The Dragons are a juggernaut at the middle and high school levels, with the latter earning 40 state championships in traditional and team duals tournaments since 1983.
The Devils’ path to championship gold saw the young Blue Devils routed Woodward, 87-3 and won over Cartersville, 53-31, before defeating Woodland in the semifinals, 50-30.
“This team is a very special group,” said head coach Zac Martin in an email. “It is a collection of young men and women who are a combination of first year wrestlers and seasoned veterans. These young people all come from different backgrounds and a different way of life, but they were all united by wrestling. They did everything I have ever asked them to do. They didn’t always like it, but they did it.”
Tift started the season 5-0, which included a win at the Colquitt Invitational.
“We knew we had a special team when we went to the Pickens County Duals and beat the Cleveland Middle School team by seven points,” said Martin. Cleveland Middle is a powerhouse. Martin said their record over the past 10 years is 150+ wins and only 12 losses. The Blue Devils were loss No. 12. Tift did suffer a loss in that tournament, however.
The team responded well from that loss. They defeated Lowndes Middle by 60 points in the next duel. That was the start of a dominant run; Martin said that no team came close afterwards.
“We beat teams on average by 60-70 points,” he said. “Our overall record this year was 25-1.” Tift Middle won first place in seven tournaments and took second in another.
“This team was lead by a very special group of captains. We had our first ever sixth grade captain in Austin King, as well as our first ever female captain in Devyn Sand,” said Martin. “The other captains to round out the group were Damion Moate, Carlton Brannon and Titus Beauford. These captains took on the leadership role and did a tremendous job. They all excelled not only on the mat but also academically and set a great example for what we expect our Tift County wrestlers to be.”
This group has set a standard for Tift teams in the future, he said.
Martin issued thanks to several individuals and organizations for their help.
“Billy King, Britt Wilson, Rayder Schemmel and Ryan Tucker have been working for several years to realize this championship, sacrificing time and money and never once complaining,” he said. Martin thanked Eighth Street Middle administration Dr. Chad Stone, Debbie Brown, Rocio Damian and Doug Head, and the administration at Northeast Middle, Chris Wilson, Ariel Wilson and Mike Collier.
King had his own praise of what Martin has done with the program.
“Head coach Zac Martin is the foundation of our middle school wrestling team,” said King in an email. “He provides the stability and leadership these kids need. Zac, in his eight-year tenure as head coach has compiled a record of 180 wins and 17 losses with seven region championships and, now, a state title.”
Organizations helping out included Premier Home Care, Patrick Farms, El Metate and A&B Designs. “They not only contributed financially, but they attended several matches and tournaments throughout the season,” Martin said. A&B not only designed the wrestling gear, but made it as well.