Former Chestatee wrestling assistant coach Paul White, a longtime head coach at North Hall and Gainesville, said that five years ago Hall County wrestling was in the worst shape he’d ever seen.
It was during that time that one of his former wrestlers at North Hall, Carey Whitlow, saw a young program at Chestatee that needed to be fixed.
That next season Whitlow took his former coach, along with a few other assistants, and went to work building a wrestling program.
Four years later, the War Eagles have grown from just nine wrestlers to 50 and are coming off a season in which they not only made the state duals meet for the first time, but made a run at the Macon tournament.
For his efforts Whitlow has been named The Times Wrestling Coach of the Year.
“He’s really brought that team to a respectable place,” said White, who coached part-time with Whitlow for the past four seasons. “It’s very gratifying to see someone who came up through my program take those same values and be so effective.”
The numbers prove that effectiveness. In four seasons, Chestatee went from seven wins to 32.
“We’ve never had a phenomenal individual that can win every match, but we’ve developed the character of the team,” Whitlow said. “We’re real hard and strict and expect them to live up to morals and ethics.
“You take a lot of hard knocks, but it pays off later.”
Now the strategy is paying off in more wins than ever before.
But Whitlow isn’t overly concerned with how much his team is winning.
“I try to coach that wrestling is a way of life where we make decisions. In the world, we have to wrestle with these things every day,” the coach said. “I just felt, as a Christian, God calling me to go influence those boys, and the way I do it is through coaching wrestling.”
His former coach echoed that sentiment.
“We don’t coach wrestling, we coach kids,” White said. “We just happen to be wrestling coaches.”
Whitlow thought he could be that kind of coach when he returned from a four-year absence from coaching, an absence he took to spend more time with his own children.
It started five years ago, when he was asked by the former War Eagles coach to help out one of the wrestlers. After seeing how he could improve the program, Whitlow decided to give it another try.
His wife convinced him.
“She said, ‘I think this is something you need to be doing,’” Whitlow remembered.
White said he didn’t think Whitlow would go into coaching when he was one of North Hall’s top wrestlers in the late 1980s, a golden era for Hall County wrestling with four future Georgia Wrestling Hall of Fame members coaching four of the local teams.
The former coach said he thought that Whitlow might be a little too driven to be able to relate to wrestlers, but when he saw how Whitlow coached at Chestatee, White saw why his former wrestler has been so successful.
“His strengths are his enthusiasm and recruiting skills and making things fun,” White said. “He’s interested in the kids more than he is about winning and losing.”
That doesn’t mean Whitlow doesn’t know about winning. At North Hall, he was one of the top wrestlers; as a senior he was on track to make noise at state when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
In typical fashion, he has turned what was once a low point of his career into a plus.
“I beat everyone in state senior year, then blew out my knee,” Whitlow said. “So I can say that I do know how you feel, and it hurts.”
This approach to coaching has turned around a program, and now he is helping to lead a new wave of top-notch coaches who have taken over the Hall County programs.
“In the last five years with (Jay) Hargis, Whitlow, and the other new coaches, all the Hall County schools are doing a very good job,” White said. “Every single coach in Hall County is doing the right thing.
“That’s not something I could have said five years ago.”