By Brian Paglia
Charlie Smith and Kody Arnold make sure to end every Ola wrestling practice and every match with a team prayer. They didn't use to do that. They use to come in, get to work, punch the clock and head home. Another day, another step toward a state title.
But that changed two weeks ago, when a day before a Class AAAA duals meet in which the Mustangs were favored to win, Ola was disqualified for improper weigh-ins of two wrestlers at the Area 4-AAAA duals. It cost head coach Anthony Partello his position, ruined Ola's state title hopes and sent the team into disarray.
"It was definitely a big punch to take," Smith said. "A lot of these kids have been in this program for four years. The only coach a lot of us have had is Partello, so it was a big blow to take. To take that all away, it was really hard to stay focused."
Smith went looking to the Book of Job in the Bible for guidance, to the tale of a man stripped of his wealth and home and family and health and tested to see how he would respond.
The story goes Job tore his clothing, fell to his knees and praised God.
The question was, how would Ola respond in its plight?
"Just like Job, who lost everything, one of the wealthiest men ever, Satan took all that away," Smith said, "and all he did was turn around and say, 'Thank you, God.' I really feel that's what we've looked at -- fight for what we get and be thankful for what we've been given."
The Mustangs still have plenty to achieve this season going into the Henry County tournament at Stockbridge this Saturday.
The Georgia High School Association spared Ola from disqualification of the traditional state tournament Feb. 18-20, and so the Mustangs are determined to regroup.
"I would like to think it gives us a little fire for us to come back and show what we have at the traditional (tournament)," Ola senior Tim Feltman said.
"It's a longshot, but we can do it if we stay together as a team and try to move forward from this."
"The way that they have regrouped has been amazing," Mustangs interim coach Kevin Bagley said.
"It surpassed even our expectations that we had for them."
Partello's firing required swift actions to stabilize the team. Assistant coach Joe Caldwell had left to begin helping with baseball practice, but he returned. Beau Edwards, linebackers coach with the football team, joined the staff.
Bagley had intended to take a break this season from coaching until the middle school coach left.
He stepped in then and he stepped in two weeks ago. Now he's coaching both.
"It's kind of busy to say the least," Bagley said.
Bagley cancelled practice for four days after Ola's disqualification.
Brooding in bitterness and confusion, the Mustangs traveled to Macon to watch the state duals meet anyway.
When they returned to practice that Monday, Bagley sensed his team was ready to refocus its efforts again.
"They came back that Monday refocused and ready to work," Bagley said.
"At first there was a lot of bickering," Feltman said, "but we started to come together and started to move forward. It's still a learning process. We're trying to work together.
The coaches are starting to step up and take control of practices."
"Those who needed to stepped up and really took control of the team," Ola senior Joey Carman said. "We're still working hard everyday."
Maybe even harder.
With eight seniors on the team, the first group of wrestlers developed every season at the McDonough school in its brief history, their time is running short.
Ola will host the Area 4-AAAA traditional meet next weekend.
The State Sectionals follow a week later.
This adversity has not altered Ola's goals, the Mustangs said.
They believe they have the talent to have five or six place in their respective weight classes at the state meet and finish in the top three as a team.
Both would be unprecedented accomplishments for the program.
But the Mustangs said the misfortune they faced has only strengthed their resolve and made the imminent moment all the more poignant.
"As seniors, we've got to realize that this is our last chance," Feltman said. "This is the last chance we have to prove anything, whatever goal you came in with. This is your last shot at it."