For Sonoraville High School, in Gordon County, Georgia, the taste of victory couldn’t be any sweeter. As principal Bruce Potts announced his early retirement, scores of teachers, students and coaches have wanted to give him a big farewell. Head Wrestling Coach Randy Steward found the perfect send off for the principal who has been an ardent supporter of putting Phoenix Wrestling on the map…. a State Championship. The first state title in ANY sport for Sonoraville.
The Rise of the Phoenix
For the wrestlers of Sonoraville, the State Championship is the result of countless hours on the mat and in the weight room. Those who know wrestling in Georgia, know that the Phoenix name has become synonymous with the names of Hunt, Burdick & Knight. When Tyler Hunt and Trevor Burdick entered Sonoraville as freshmen in 2016, they were already heavy favorites to make the state finals. When they both knocked off wrestlers from the vaunted Jefferson Dragons, Hunt and Burdick became instant legends in the halls of Sonoraville. Their work ethic was contagious and the wrestling room took on a whole new energy. In 2017, Hunt and Burdick were back in the finals again, and this time they brought a friend, senior Ian Clark. The threesome each won state titles in the first year of Steward’s tenure and their success garnered even more support from the school and local community. Clark went on to sign with Life University where he wrestles with Omi Acosta and the Life U Eagles.
The goal for 2018 was to build depth within the program, elevating the mid-level wrestlers and developing some raw talent. All while pushing a stable of elite athletes looking to build college resumes this season. Freshman Eli Knight entered the season in much the same manner as Hunt and Burdick from 2016.
A heavy favorite in nearly every tournament he competed in, Knight shone brightest under some big time pressure. Two key early-season losses were quickly avenged later in the year, but it was a bitter loss in the State Duals to North Hall’s Jackson Whitmire that stung the most. Facing off in the Finals was the perfect place for revenge as Knight controlled the match throughout, walking off the mat with a 5-2 revenge victory and his first State Championship.
Knight’s older brother, junior John Knight, spent the off season building toward a big finish and, while his trip to the Finals didn’t have the storybook ending he hoped for, his 2nd Place finish and 19 team points were 4th most on the team and helped push the Phoenix atop the leader board.
Sonoraville qualified eight wrestlers for the State Championship tournament and, in the end, all eight placed. More importantly for Coach Steward, all eight are underclassmen and will be returning next season. With two more Knight brothers, another Burdick AND another Hunt all arriving next season, Phoenix fans have plenty to look forward to.
For the two juniors who kicked off the championship foundation two seasons ago, 2018 was a milestone but not the destination. Tyler Hunt and Trevor Burdick are 3X State Champions.
Hunt verbally committed to the United States Naval Academy while Burdick is still fielding offers. Burdick scored Major victories against every opponent, shutting down Lumpkin County’s Keller Brown 13-2 in the Finals. Hunt led all wrestlers for Sonoraville with a perfect 26 team points, pinning every opponent he faced including a dominating performance in the Finals against McNair’s Antonio Mills.
Big Points From the Blood Rounds
With four wrestlers in the Finals, three State Champions and eight State Placers, Sonoraville wrestlers earned the Traditional State Championship for GHSA 3A Wrestling. While the accomplishment was led by some elite athletes, it would never have been possible without some of the hard fought wins earned by the four athletes in the “Blood Rounds.”
Sophomores Hector Arbos (113)- 4th Place, Allen Stone (120)- 4th Place, Jayce Derryberry (126)- 6th Place and Charlie Brown (182)- 4th Place, all picked up valuable team points with their performances. Arbos was leading 7-2 when a bad move opened him up for the upset in the consolation finals, but his victories for the weekend included a pin and earned him 12 points.
Stone picked up a pin in the early round before falling 0-3 to eventual champion Matthew Glenn in a loss where Stone left the mat feeling like he could’ve done more. And a commitment that next year he will. Brown lost only two matches by a combined 3 points, including a 3-5 loss in the semi finals to McNair’s Terrance Randle, the eventual champ.
Formula For Success
When asked how the Sonoraville wrestling program vaulted from two state placers three years ago, to a State Championship program in 2018, Coach Steward pointed to the formula of strong parental support, strong administration support, and a stellar youth program spearheaded by assistant coach Greg Hunt, father of Tyler Hunt. Steward pointed out Principal Bruce Potts and Athletic Director Brent Mashburn who went the extra mile to make sure that the wrestling program could focus on training, and a group of parents who would stop at nothing to ensure their kids were ready to work.
“It was a great effort and performance by the kids” said Steward, “They have no idea how special it will be when they look back in the years to come.” Steward knows the meaning of the team title for Sonoraville High School as well, and the meaning to departing Principal Potts. “With him announcing his departure, it couldn’t be any more special…. I’m happy that I got to play a part in making this happen for him.” While this is the first team State Championship for Sonoraville, it is also the first High School State Championship for Coach Steward. And one he will never forget.
The Stew Train
Potts led the search for a wrestling coach in the summer of 2017 and fate led him to Randy Steward. For the previous 23 years, Steward had been leading the DuHawks of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Throughout Steward’s 23 years at Loras, he coached 56 All-Americans, with the most recent being at the 2016 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. His accolades include 228 dual victories, 15 Academic All-Americans, nine top-16 national finishes and six national champions. In 2017, Steward was inducted into the DeWitt Central Athletic Hall of Fame and the NWCA NCAA Division III Hall of Fame. Steward was named Iowa Conference Coach of the Year and NCAA Central Region Coach of the Year in 2014 after qualifying three for nationals and winning the national championship at 285#.
In total, the Iowa Conference has recognized Steward as its Coach of the Year on four occasions. As a Division III student-athlete himself at Cornell College, Steward was a four-time national qualifier before graduating with a degree in physical education. He later went on to earn his master’s degree from Northwest Missouri State University.
Steward has big plans for the future of Sonoraville’s wrestling program. Despite a Hall of Fame career at the collegiate level, Steward is thrilled to be on the mat coaching. “It is wonderful to be allowed to have a strong impact on kids through wrestling. I am thankful every day,” says Steward. For the State Championship Wrestling Team at Sonoraville High School, next season begins right now.