Building a forceful program
Fifth-place finish at state exceeds coach's hopes. 2008 PrepXtra
Wrestlers Coach of the Year: Justin Ridge, Greenback
BY JOHN SHEARER, knoxnews.com
Ridge ended up back as wrestling coach at Greenback High School as an
indirect result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Now he is witnessing another strong force - his wrestling program.
With a second-straight Region 2 championship and fifth-place finish in
the state tournament, Ridge is the News Sentinel's PrepXtra wrestling
coach of the year.
"I don't know if I ever expected us in the individual (state) tournament
to achieve what we did," said Ridge, whose squad also finished fourth in
the A-AA state duals. "I thought it was amazing for the kids to do what
Ridge's road to Greenback began while in college. He had wrestled for
William Blount before graduating in 1998 and attending Maryville
College, where he helped start a club program and participated his
At about the same time, his brother, Jason, was helping start the
program at Greenback. So he joined the coaching staff. He was soon
elevated to head coach.
However, in the summer of 2005, Ridge moved to New Orleans, where his
wife, Ashley, was to do an internship as a school psychologist.
After the hurricane hit, they returned to East Tennessee, where Ridge
was able to find a teaching position at Loudon and coached wrestling for
Grace Christian Academy.
He returned to Greenback as coach in 2006, and the wrestling program
Ridge said he has tried to learn from other successful programs, such as
recent state champions Bradley Central and Soddy-Daisy.
"I tried to copycat what we wanted to be like," he said. "I would see
what they do well and see how they run their program and do the things
He also looked to his school, which has one of the smaller enrollments
in the state.
"I recruit kids within the school," he said, adding that he receives
much positive help from assistants Garrick Henderson and Brian Gossett
and the parents. "You don't have many kids, so you constantly try to get
kids to come out."
This past season, Greenback had four Region 2 champions: Gary Sluder
(112 pounds), Eddie Long (125), Jess Hooper (130), and Jackie Miller
(189). Sluder, Long, 2007 state champion Jeremy Miller (119) and Silas
Burchett (145) also placed in the top six in the state.
Long and Burchett, who have been wrestling on the varsity since the
eighth grade, are graduating, and their leadership will be missed, Ridge
However, the rest of the state qualifiers return, signifying that the
Cherokees might be a force to be reckoned with next year.
"We have a lot of freshmen, so we will be a better dual-meet team,"
Ridge said. "But people will have to step up for us to have the same
individual success we had last year."