03/14/07 — Edmundson turns Rosewood wrestling program into powerhouse

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Edmundson turns Rosewood wrestling program into powerhouse

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 14, 2007 2:47 PM

Wrestling mats -- with no turnbuckles?

Branch Pope, then Rosewood athletics director, made that quip when the delivery truck arrived with the equipment in the fall of 1992.

Bill Edmundson replied "not in this kind of wrestling."

Pope answered, "well since you knew that, you can coach the team."

Little did Edmundson know what he was getting into at the time. Could a rural high school steeped in football and basketball tradition compete successfully in wrestling?

Edmundson didn't know the answer, but he had to convince kids who had never heard of scholastic wrestling to get involved. He related his experiences as a grappler at Wilson Beddingfield to pique the prospective wrestlers' interest. Edmundson participated during Beddingfield's glory years when it dominated on the regional and state scenes.

"I wasn't a very good wrestler," joked Edmundson. "But I enjoyed the sport and knew what it would take to be successful."

It's been a perfect marriage and the honeymoon -- after 15 years -- hasn't ended for Edmundson. He's turned the Class 1-A program into a perennial powerhouse which recently captured its 11th consecutive regular-season conference title and 13th overall.

The beginning

After spending nearly $10,000 in "good faith" money to start the program, Edmundson needed help ... not only to coach, but to generate support within the community.

Edmundson bent the ears of the late Terry Pilkington and Joe Nassef, who each wrestled at Goldsboro High. Pilkington had just resuscitated the wrestling program at Charles B. Aycock, and provided day-to-day advice -- along with Nassef -- that helped Edmundson coach and promote the sport. Dr. Craig DeCarlo introduced Edmundson to leg techniques.

"These men would stop what they were doing and offer to help in any way they could, and believe me, I had lots of questions," said Edmundson.

Hardy Sullivan Jr. stepped onto campus about the same time and offered his assistance as a volunteer coach. Sullivan, whose father wrestled, has been an integral part of the program since.

Edmundson also received help during the early stages of his coaching career from Phil Mueller, who recently started a wrestling program at Louisburg High School and Nick Smith. Smith, an Eastern Wayne graduate and former Southern Wayne coach, emerged the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 4-A 119-pound state champion in 1987.

Edmundson graciously admits Mueller and Smith proved influential during that first season. He took his wrestlers to watch Smith's practices at Southern Wayne and eventually constructed an aggressive, physically-demanding workout routine with Mueller and Sullivan.

"The practices are the most-demanding, intense activity you can place on a student-athlete," said Edmundson. "If it's a weekday between November and March, we're going to practice. Every kid there knows the importance of being there and working hard.

"Any athlete who is willing to subject himself to this rigorous lifestyle holds a special place in my heart, and they all know it."

Lifting weights and learning techniques are just one part of balancing the sport of wrestling. Athletes wage an internal battle with weight during the season, especially around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. They must watch their caloric intake so they're able to make weight, either for dual-team meets or individual tournaments.

Individual tournaments, usually wrestled on the weekend, last nearly 10 to 12 hours. A wrestler might compete in as many as five matches as allowed by the National Federation of High School Associations.

A wrestler's social life is nearly non existent.

"The most-important aspect of wrestling to me is that these athletes get a life lesson from the sport," said Edmundson. "Hopefully some day they can look back on their experiences and be successful because of what they learned, be it physical, mental or emotional."

A blank canvas

With no middle-school program to teach younger kids, Edmundson gets "raw" kids who have no bad habits and are eager to learn.

"I have pretty much been able to hand pick the guys that come out by simply suggesting that they give wrestling a try," said Edmundson.

However, the disadvantage is taking that inexperienced wrestler and putting him on the mat against a seasoned competitor. Losses usually accumulate faster than wins during that first year, but Edmundson isn't too concerned with the record. He measures the wrestler's success in the knowledge he's gained.

"My philosophy is that if you have a great work ethic and you're dedicated to the sport, the records will take care of themselves," said Edmundson.

A bright purple banner hanging in the gymnasium perfectly proves the coach's theory. Gold numbers signify the team's conference championships and an abundance of hardware -- earned on the conference, regional and state scene -- sits in the trophy case in the gym lobby.

Edmundson has guided the Eagles to 294 dual-team victories, 13 regular-season conference and tournament championships; and three appearances in the N.C. High School Athletic Association dual-team regional finals.

Imitation, for Rosewood, is definitely a humble and sincere form of flattery. Numerous eastern North Carolina programs, especially on the 1-A level, try to imitate Edmundson's success. He can honestly say he hasn't been too disappointed -- during any season -- with his grapplers' performances on the mat.

"I feel like I have a great relationship with my student-athletes," said Edmundson. "They give me all they have and they are a very proud, very dedicated group year in and out.

"No one wants to be the team that didn't win the conference championship."

The history

Rosewood consistently produces champions, admittedly too many for Edmundson to recall, on the conference and regional levels. He's had numerous grapplers to gain inclusion into the program's Century Club, which recognizes an athlete for 100 or more wins during his career.

Strangely enough, there have only been six male state placers in school history -- Rayco Kornegay (215 pounds), Ryan DeCarlo (112), Bob Cooke (275), Michael Sander (275), Ramsey Brown (112) and Jim Bish (112).

On an even stranger note, Edmundson got his first state champion -- a female -- in 2003 when Katie Crawford dominated her weight class in the U.S. Girls Wrestling Association championships. Olivia Neal became the second USGWA gold medalist in school history as a sophomore last spring.

"I'm just happy that the wrestlers get some recognition for all of their dedication and for their sacrifices," said Edmundson.

The success, undoubtedly, has gone far beyond Edmundson's imagination when he started the program 15 years ago. He and his wrestlers live by a motto -- in bright gold letters -- that they see daily in the practice room.

It states "Those who remain will become champions."

Enough said.