Accolades have been coming in to Wewahitchka and coach Tracy Malcolm for the “exemplary job (in) organizing, implementing, and administering (the) recent FHSAA Region 1A wrestling tournament held at your school.”
This complimentary message came from Mike Netherclift, president of and booking officer for the North Central Florida Wrestling Officials organization, sent to Wewahitchka High School principal Jay Bidwell.
Netherclift continued with the praise, calling the regional tournament “one of the best run tournaments I have experienced.”
“It was readily apparent that Coach Malcolm has great support from friends, family, and the community to assist him with this event,” he added, concluding with his recommendation that Wewa and Malcolm “host another FHSAA State Series Event in the future.”
Recently, the Star interviewed Coach Malcolm to find out more about him and the successful wrestling program that he has fostered.
“I wrestled in junior high and high school, and was ‘good enough’,” Malcolm said, but after graduating from Barboursville High School in “a very small, rural community in West Virginia,” he decided to join the United States Air Force where he served for 26 years before retiring at Tyndall Air Force Base in 2011.
“We moved to Wewa in 2006,” he said, “and my daughter Kassie (now Ward) fit right into the softball program, made the team and was part of the 2007 and 2008 state championship teams.”
Before he retired, “one day my oldest son, Nick, came home and said that he wanted to try out this new sport that they were starting at the high school: wrestling.”
“We had been all over the world, but wrestling wasn’t prevalent anywhere we were stationed,” he said, “and we got to little old Wewahitchka and they have a wrestling program.”
The program really took off under Todd Johnson, who now lives in Colorado, and when Nick mentioned to Johnson that his father had a wrestling background, “he asked me to come out and help with practices when I could.”
“When Johnson left,” Malcolm said, “they called me in and said I could take over the program. If I said no, they were going to shut it down,” so he took the job and coached Nick until he graduated in 2011, “and then I had a younger son (Austin) wrestle and graduate in 2016.”
After Austin graduated, “there were bets on how long I would last (as coach), and here we are; we’re still here,” he said.
Malcolm continued to coach the sport after his sons graduated because “there’s always that one kid that keeps you hanging on. I’m not from here, (but) we live here, we love the community, we love the people, and I love this school.”
So how did “little old Wewahitchka” manage to secure the FHSAA Region 1 wrestling tournament?
Malcolm explained that the district coaches always decide on the district tournament location, and for years “our tournament was at Arnold High School. I said to myself that we could do that. After a few years of petitioning for the district tournament, Arnold had a conflict of interest, so we started hosting it.”
After successfully hosting the district event for years, “I knew that we could run a regional tournament.”
Although the district typically involves only eight schools, “we’ve been hosting our Gator Brawl for (about) 12 years, and although not as many teams come to that as a regional, there are more matches – nearly 1,000 matches in two days,” he said.
A district event has fewer than 100 matches, whereas a regional will see about 400 matches.
First petitioning the State to host a regional in 2016, Wewa was finally awarded the tournament only to see Hurricane Michael dash those hopes, at least until this year.
“This year, they gave it to us,” he said. “We had the people to do it, we had the team size, and arguably the most successful team I’ve ever had, with five of the nine qualifying for regionals and two (Conner Roberts and Jake Parker) advancing to the state finals.”
Roberts compiled a record of 54-7 this season, and would have had more matches but for an illness over the holidays. Parker, who like Roberts earned a sixth place medal at State, ended his sophomore season with a 59-12 record.
Malcolm would like to see Roberts, who will graduate this year, “go on to the next level, either as a practice squad member or actually compete, but his focus is on his degree.”
“(Roberts) has said several times that he wants to come back here and take my job,” Malcolm said. “I would love for him to do that.”
The process of preparing for a regional tournament and getting all the people organized and involved “is an orchestrated train wreck,” according to Malcolm. “There’s just a boatload of people involved,” including his sons Nick and Austin, who were the official scorekeepers for the tournament.
“On the setup and the tear down, it takes a community,” he said.
One person in particular whom Malcolm mentioned was his wife, Sara, “the unofficial team mom who goes with me to every tournament (and who) knows the kids inside and out.”
Sara also attended Barboursville High School, which is no longer in existence due to consolidation. Barboursville is located just a few miles from Huntington.
Praising his current set of wrestling parents, Malcolm said “They are amazing. They don’t know (the word) quit.”
Another person who took note of Wewa’s successful hosting of the regional tournament was Gulf County School Superintendent Jim Norton.
Replying to Netherclift’s email, Norton said “it is apparent to anyone that can see into the wrestling program that Coach Malcolm is completely dedicated.”
Norton added that “We plan to recognize and thank (Malcolm) at an upcoming School Board meeting.” That will take place on April 4.
On the topic of his school board recognition, Malcolm said “I am honored to go down there, (but) it’s not for me. I’m going to push everything off on the people that make it happen. I’m just sitting in the captain’s seat.”
Malcolm said that he intends on taking Roberts and Parker with him, because “I want the board members to see these two fine, young, outstanding men.”
Another element of the program in which Malcolm takes a great deal of pride is the wrestling room, which started out as the visiting football team’s locker room.
Sporting new mats on the floor and walls, the air conditioned wrestling room includes lockers, storage space, an office, and inspirational quotes on the walls.
“I am especially grateful to Jim Norton for getting the mats for us a few years ago,” Malcolm said, “because the old mats were cracking and tearing apart.
The wrestling room has been seeing plenty of action since its refurbishment, and the quality practices have led to success in competitions. Malcolm’s nine Gators wrestled a grand total of 517 matches this season, and Roberts was the only senior.