The John Paul II athletics program is expanding again. With haste.
The Golden Warriors will make wrestling their 14th varsity offering — fast-tracked to begin this winter with perhaps a dozen athletes. Longtime Beaufort High coach Bill Damude, already on the school’s staff as a history teacher, will become the program’s first head coach.
Practice, by the way, begins in 5 1/2 weeks.
“We have to really get on buying a mat,” quipped athletics director Matt Dakolios, who gave the green light just last week.
School officials have figured out where the new team is going to practice, he added, but a mat and uniforms will have to be put on rush order. A schedule also needs to be quickly arranged, with most matches this season likely to come against JV squads of the area’s public schools.
“It’s one of those things where, if we thought we could pull it off, then why not?” Dakolios said. “It’s a sport you can do with even a couple of kids. I think we’re going to be able to do it, which is exciting.”
Dakolios called wrestling’s speedy addition the result of a “perfect storm” in which two students transfered in — one from San Diego, one from Battery Creek — and wanted to continue competing, Damude already was on staff, and a signup to measure interest brought more prospects than anticipated.
The Golden Warriors may not have a wrestler in every weight class, but it’s a start.
“If there are 12 kids, we can put something together,” said Damude, whose 26-year tenure at Beaufort High produced 11 individual state champions and two All-Americans at senior nationals.
Damude stepped aside in 2014 when his term expired under a Beaufort County School District plan that allows personnel to initiate retirement but stay on the job an additional five years. Travis Wynn, a 2008 state champion for the Eagles, took over after a year as coach-in-waiting.
Damude’s 372 dual-match wins placed him eighth on the state’s all-time list when he retired, and he still ranks No. 11. Even in retirement, he served as a volunteer assistant under Wynn.
“He’s an amazing guy, somebody that’ll do anything you ask,” Dakolios said. “I wanted to make it very clear when I talked to Bill that he was under no obligation (to coach), but he wanted to do it.”
Damude affirmed that he joined the JP2 staff this summer because he wanted to continue teaching, and “that was all I was focused on.” But given the chance, the opportunity to get back into coaching was too good to pass up.
“John Paul is a growing school,” the coach said. “This might be another avenue to help us continue to grow.”
The move, he said, takes him back to his early days at Beaufort High, when the Eagles of the mid-1980s would practice in the dining hall.
“We ended up with seven kids on the team for most of the year,” he said. “Back then it was more of an individual sport, which with seven kids wasn’t a bad thing. We had a couple of state placers that year, so we had something to build on.”
John Paul II becomes just the 10th SCISA school to offer wrestling, not to mention the smallest. Eight of the other wrestling programs are in SCISA’s largest classification, including fellow Catholic school Cardinal Newman.
Locale could be an issue, as the Golden Warriors’ nearest SCISA wrestling foe is Orangeburg Prep. But a menu of the area’s JV teams also could prove beneficial, considering the talent produced across Beaufort County.
Battery Creek has won two state titles in the past three years, Hilton Head Island was the Class 3A Lower State champion last February, and county schools sent 26 wrestlers to last season’s state individual finals. “It is a wrestling-rich county,” Damude said.
SC wrestling coaches with the most dual match wins
676: B.D. LaPrad, 1975-2015 (Bishop England, Irmo, Dutch Fork, Fort Dorchester, River Bluff)
567: Brad Porter, 1988-present (Cheraw)
514: *Ken Wilson, 1983-present (Lancaster, Spring Valley, Dutch Fork, Chapin)
479: *Jake Stewart, 1986-present (Berkeley, Bamberg-Ehrhardt)
465: Jack Kosmicki, 1995-present (Eastside)
442: Leonard Covington, 1984-present (Goose Creek)
415: Jim Barnes, 1971-2000 (Union, Airport, Rock Hill)
410: Tim Wash, 1988-present (James Island, Lugoff-Elgin, Rock Hill, Berkeley, Cane Bay)
407: *John Hollman, 2001-2015 (Hilton Head, Bluffton)
407: *Cain Beard, 1998-present (Rock Hill)
372: Bill Damude, 1988-2014 (Beaufort)
* Includes wins coaching in other states before coming to South Carolina