The first annual Navy vs. Gold wrestling match happened in the middle of a school day.
It was one of first-year West Forsyth wrestling coach Evan Goff's ideas to gather support and enthusiasm around the program, but for some of the team's athletes, the idea of showcasing a relatively obscure sport and the possibility of losing in front of peers and classmates wasn't an immediate winner.
"I was like, 'You're joking, right?'" Wolverines senior Jack Woodall said. "When he first told me that I was like, 'I don't want to do that.'"
The event was a success, though. More than 300 spectators came to watch the match, Woodall "loved it," and a few students joined the program as a result. And in the early weeks of the season, there's even more reason for enthusiasm about West: The Wolverines are 10-0 in dual matches so far and have already beaten county rivals Forsyth Central and South Forsyth.
"This is very surprising to me," Woodall said.
Woodall's surprise comes from the suddenness of the Wolverine's turnaround, given the downturn in success and participation that the program had experienced in recent years. Goff had coached against Forsyth County programs during his years at Roswell and believed that there was ample talent and enthusiasm in the region, so he put the team's core group of athletes through a summer schedule.
When the school year started, Goff started recruiting, emphasizing the no-cut aspect of wrestling and its potential to make multi-sport athletes better. He ended up more than doubling the number of athletes in the program.
"We have a lot of inexperience, but we have a lot of depth," Goff said. "The kids are in here, there's some competition for some weight classes, and it's pushing everybody forward."
In fact, Woodall and John Moultrie are the program's only two seniors, and they're in the same weight class. West is heavy on juniors and has five freshmen in the lineup. Ethan Rickert, who is 12-1 so far at 132 pounds, has been a standout from the latter group.
"He's uprooted a couple of state placers already, (and) I think they desire to get their hand raised after watching him," Goff said of Rickert's influence on the program. "A lot of these kids are having a good time, because we are winning, and it's filtering out into the hallways to pull more kids into the program for next year."
Goff and the rest of the team know that this early success in no way guarantees that the Wolverines will reach the state duals for the first time since Dennis Stromie was the program's coach. South, which qualified for the state tournament last year, was shorthanded when West beat them, and the Wolverines have yet to face North Forsyth, which returns the most talent in the county from last season.
Goff expects West to improve as this season goes on, tightening up technique and optimizing the lineup, but he expects the same from the program's opponents, too.
"We can't be (so) ignorant to believe that we're the only team that's going to get better," Goff said.