Switching sides

Published 2:30 pm Tuesday, August 5, 2014



Penhollow discards rebuilding mindset, inherits established program

To revive a high school sports program following a 30-year absence is no easy task. It takes patience, dedication and, of course, unquestioned knowledge of the sport at hand.

Newly hired Pam Pack head wrestling coach Chris Penhollow came to Farmville Central High School six years ago with an intimidating mission: to restart a forgotten Jaguars wrestling program.

“It’s one of those sports where if you don’t have someone there pushing it, it can fade away pretty quick,” Penhollow said. “When I first got there I was looking around and said, ‘My God, we have some athletes running around this school.’ We weren’t at the same wrestling level as some of these other schools around us, like North Pitt and Washington, but we had athletes who were able to compete.”

Penhollow, an graduate of East Carolina who spent the previous five years as an assistant wrestling coach at North Pitt, still had to wait two years to even consider restarting the program, as the Pitt County school system was in the midst of extensive budget cuts. A freeze was placed on the creation of new programs, including sports teams.

The freeze was removed in 2010, opening the door for Penhollow and Ron Butler, Pitt County Schools coordinator of athletics, to reestablish the wrestling program that winter. In what was surely the definition of a rebuilding process, Farmville Central’s scattered assortment of athletes had to be corralled and taught the fundamentals of wrestling.

Farmville’s enrollment sat at about 750 students at the time. Penhollow had over 60 students come out for the team in the first year.

By the end of the season, the Jaguars had amassed a couple of wins and had just 15-20 wrestlers left, but they had successfully established a foundation to build upon. And build they did.

“The second year, we probably had 40 come out and were able to finish the season with over 20 wins,” Penhollow said. “Once you get established, you get that little nucleus of wrestlers.”

It took Penhollow just two years to construct a program out of nothing, taking Farmville Central from nonexistent to hardly relevant to playoff contender. Last season, the Jaguars finished 24-7, won the conference and made it to the third round of the playoffs.

Now, Penhollow hits the Eastern Plains Conference coaching carousel for the third time in a decade, this time to conference newcomer Washington, as his assistant coach Mike Taylor takes the reigns to the Jaguars program.

“You talk about athletes at Farmville, well, the Pam Pack is loaded with some athletes,” Penhollow said. “I need to get into the school, build a relationship with the current kids and try to pull some of those football kids into the wrestling program.”

For the first time in his career, Penhollow will navigate a program with a rich history of discipline and individual state champions. In fact, the new Pam Pack coach was apart of that history, graduating from Washington in 1985 as a three-sport athlete (track, football, wrestling).

There’s no hiding it. Expectations are at an all-time high for the Pam Pack in 2015. Despite nothing but positive remarks regarding his former program, Penhollow sees his new team not only winning the conference, but also eventually making a run at a regional final or state championship.

“I don’t think that’s unrealistic,” Penhollow said. “Last year at Farmville, we were one point away from being in the eastern regional finals. Those were all brand new kids to the sport. Maybe it’s a little high of an expectation, but I think it’s realistic.”