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Panthers build towards wrestling future

By Zack Huffman

zhuffman@news-daily.com

John Patterson is not your typically high school sports coach. Although he spent his high school and collegiate athletic career on a wrestling mat, his involvement in sports ended with his college graduation.

That is until new Forest Park principal Melvin Blocker convinced him to take the helm of a wrestling program in dire need.

Shortly after receiving his college degree, Patterson entered the corporate world and became a father.

After 14 years as an Information Technology Project Manager for Sprint, Patterson was burned out from the excess of travel and the lack of satisfaction he gained from his day-to-day work.

"I got real burned out, I had been traveling and I missed a lot of time with my kids," he said. "I'm a single father and I wanted to spend more time with them and I wanted to do something that I could look back at and be more satisfied with."

That was when he decided to get more involved with his son's schooling.

In the process, he went back to school and earned a Master Degree in teaching with certifications to teach technology classes and physical education.

When became the head wrestling coach at Forest Park, what he found was a program in disarray.

As a third year wrestler, senior captain Darren Sexton one of the few members of the team who remembers how the rough state Forest Park wrestling faced at the beginning of last season.

"It was a pretty bad situation. We had no money in the program. It was looking real downhill," said Sexton. "Coach Patterson came along and picked up the program. We began to rebuild."

A major component to Patterson's rebuilding efforts has been gathering proper financial support, sometimes out of his own pocket, for new singlets, new headgear, as well as paying entrance fees into a variety of competitive tournaments around the state, including Lovejoy's Wildcat Rumble, the Crossbones Classic in East Paulding and the Blue Devil Tournament in Norcross.

"Right now I feel our program is headed in the right direction. I say within the next couple of years this team could go to state duals," said Sexton. "I hope the best for them after I graduate."

Five wrestlers from last year's squad returned to form the nucleus of a team set on rebuilding a foundation for success.

Of those five wrestlers is a female who has surprising opponents with her successful results, including a third-place finish at the Clayton County Tournament.

For Cambria Norris, the decision to take up wrestling had more to do with finding a sport to keep her occupied after volleyball.

Norris had no interest in trying out for the swim team or for basketball, so a male friend of hers suggested wrestling.

"I thought it was interesting so I tried out," she said.

According to Norris, the toughest thing she faced when becoming a wrestler was developing her technique to a degree that evened out a disadvantage she might face from an opponent with more muscle.

Patterson believes being underestimated is exactly what can make female wrestlers so formidable.

"When you wrestle a female wrestle you've got to put it in your mind that she does not train every day to lose," he said. "In her mind she's going to win every time she steps onto that mat. If you don't realize that you're going to be on the losing end of her match."

Aside from that, Patterson admires the approach female wrestlers must take to the mat in order to be successful.

"Girls are not looking to try to muscle everybody. When they learn technique, they are very dangerous to wrestle," he said. "When you get out there you'd better face her with the same intensity and strategic thought as any other guy."

While being a girl wrestler naturally brings a certain level of empowerment, Norris hopes aspiring athletes of both genders can look up to her example.

"This is a hard sport for anybody," she said. "If I can do it anybody can do it."