Strawberry Crest coach Will Terry wants to keep young grapplers on the mat this summer.
Will Terry probably wasn’t expecting the Charger Wrestling Club to take him back to his own childhood, but this year's move did just that.
Plum Street, where Terry grew up, is a 10-minute walk from the club’s new headquarters at the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds. The warehouse where the boys and girls in the club train, listed at the expo hall’s address but tucked away behind the Wish Farms Soundstage’s grandstands, is so new it has no proper name. It’s just “‘the stable’…where we make thoroughbreds,” Terry often says in reference to Strawberry Crest’s equine mascot. It may not be the most glamorous training ground for wrestling, but it’s something he said Plant City needed years ago.
Had the SCHS wrestling program stopped running the club or delayed it this summer, it would have been understandable. Terry was the last remaining member of the 2017-18 coaching staff, which almost entirely split up in the offseason, and the school did not immediately hire new personnel to join the program in the summer. But Terry, with help from coach Abe Fernandez and club parents Billy Riggs and Bobby Smith, has kept the CWC going because he wishes he had something like this to make that walk for when he was a kid.
“Growing up, I didn’t have the best home life,” Terry said. “My dad was in and out of prison and my mom, she was battling alcoholism…when there’s no direction in your life, you kind of wander.”
He regularly found himself in trouble and after getting kicked out of school, Terry moved in with his sister and met former Temple Heights Christian Academy coach Steve Lewis. Through these changes, he found a new direction in life. Interacting with Lewis — whom Terry calls the “father figure” he needed — eventually drew him to a career as a coach and an educator determined to be a positive presence in kids’ lives. Charger Wrestling Club presents an opportunity to do for them what Lewis did for Terry.
“To this day, it’s an honor for me as a coach to honor him and the legacy that he had,” Terry said. “I want to build something here in this area, where I grew up and I got into a lot of trouble, to get kids off the street.”
Though the club is open to boys and girls of nearly all ages and not a direct extension of Strawberry Crest’s official team, it does offer a glimpse into Crest wrestling’s future.
Terry said Florida Strawberry Festival President Paul Davis is allowing both the CWC and SCHS to use the facility for year-round training, which comes as a relief for the school’s wrestlers. It wasn’t long ago that they trained either in the school gymnasium, jockeying for a sliver of space with the basketball and cheerleading teams, or in the school cafeteria where academic clubs had the right to ask the team to leave after a certain amount of time.
For high school wrestlers, the club is more than just a chance to get in some good offseason practice. Amneous Chambers and Ty Young, for example, represented the CWC at last week’s Disney Duals. Their outstanding performances — a combined 21 wins, three losses — allowed the high school grapplers to leave Orlando as newly-minted AAU All-Americans. The CWC also sent eight of its own to Pennsylvania for the renowned J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp and each came back having earned the camp's famous "I Did It" shirts.
The club will get a boost when new SCHS hire Eddie “Woody” Woodburn relocates to Florida. Woodburn, who was named Crest’s new wrestling head coach last month, plans to jump right in.
The next goal for the club and the SCHS team is to replace the mats, a costly investment for which Terry is seeking donations. Any contribution made to the non-profit club can be a tax write-off, Terry said.
The message Terry wants the club to send is twofold. If you want to be a “thoroughbred” on the mat, this is the place for you. If you just want to stay out of trouble and learn something new in a positive environment, this is the place for you.
“We don’t care what school you go to,” Terry said. “We want to coach you, get you better and build wrestling in this side of town.”
Located at 2301 W. Oak Ave., the CWC runs Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8 p.m. and costs $60 per month. The club is open to boys and girls in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information or to make a donation to the club, call Terry at 813-625-9455.