After enrollment decrease, Sexton wrestling rebuilds from the ground up

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As a child, you were taught that it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down but how many times you get back up.

In recent years, the winning nature of Sexton’s wrestling team has taken a setback. Participation in the wrestling program has dropped significantly over the decades from almost 90 wrestlers in the 1980s to 25 wrestlers as of 2017.

The J.W Sexton High School wrestling team was once regarded as one of the best programs in Michigan. From the late 1940s to late 1980s, Sexton won five state championships and took second place nine times. Its last look at a team championship appearance was in 1987.

Chris Henderson is in his 20th year as head coach of the wrestling team and third year as Sexton’s athletic director. Henderson was a part of Sexton’s golden days, winning three individual championships as a student in 1987-1989. He has been trying to return his team to the winning ways ever since assuming the coaching role.

Declining enrollment compounded by school of choice play a big role in the declining participation of the program, Henderson said. A smaller school and community leads to a smaller student population, which means fewer opportunities and less money. He said that kids also transfer to the bigger and better facilities and resources at other schools.

Sexton’s enrollment declined so much it dropped from a division 1 team to division 3. Sexton also lost its middle school wrestling program for a short period. The school was eventually able to bring it back.

“Currently our middle school program is helping, and we have a great youth program that has contributed to the high school success,” Henderson said.

Head coach of Michigan State’s wrestling team, Roger Chandler, is an advocate of starting kids young to develop talent.

“You have to have a developmental program, which starts at the youth level,” Chandler said. “It’s too hard to just build a program from just kids that come into high school that may have never had experience.”

Despite the decline in winning percentage, Henderson said that Sexton remains optimistic. He said that the students are great and hungry to learn.

The Sexton Big Reds have shown progress, finishing 12-5 in the 2016-2017 season. This year, three wrestlers will compete in the individual finals. Winning is always a great sign for any team, but Henderson has his mind on building a solid foundation once again.

“I have had a 2-19 season and 13-6 seasons, but I truly believe each season is a success regardless of the titles or win/loss record,” Henderson said. “They are developing characteristics that will lead them to a successful life.”

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