Grappling? An opportunity awaits

Clinton wrestling has a fresh approach with new coach

Josh Cate
Josh Cate was recently hired as the head wrestling coach for Clinton High School after the former coach stepped down this past winter.

“I wrestled in high school,” said Cate, “and since then I’ve professionally coached mixed martial arts, like judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu.”

Cate said that a buddy of his told him about the open position, and, since he’s currently attending the University of Tennessee for Sports Psychology, he thought it might be a good opportunity if he ever decided to teach.

“I’m looking at the teaching field, so this could be a good foot in the door to getting in the school program,” he said. “I talked with the former coach, got in touch with the school, had the interview, and here we are.”

Cate said wrestling is a huge part of jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts, and serves as a strong foundation for the sports.

“I’ve taught and coached mixed martial arts, and wrestling is the strongest foundation for MMA,” he said. “I’ve never stopped wrestling; it’s been a huge part of what I’ve done for the past 30 years. Just a few years ago, I brought Olympic Freestyle wrestler Dan Dennis into my gym to do a seminar. There’s a ton of overlap.”

Clinton’s wrestling team had a rough go this past year, ending the season with only four kids. Cate said his priority during his first year is simple and, hopefully, manageable.

“The long-term goal is going to be to build a strong program that can sustain itself and that the kids are excited about, but the first-year goal is to fill every weight class and make the kids excited about wrestling,” he said. “If I can do that, if I can have at least one kid per weight class, I’ll feel like I’ve done a pretty good job.”’

Recruiting isn’t easy for wrestling programs, without the large clout and crowds of sports like football and basketball. That’s why Cate said he’s hoping to work with the football programs to draw kids into the sport.

“I think the big thing from talking to the athletic director is really needing to get in with the football team,” Cate said. “My plan is to do what I can to help with football practices, and see whatever capacity they can use me so I can get my face out there and get a connection. Hopefully I can convince some of them to wrestle when the [football] season is over. We’re looking at one of the assistant football coaches to be one of the assistant wrestling coaches and that’ll act as an amazing bridge for us.

“I plan on going to the school during lunchtimes and do whatever needs to be done. Maybe pick out individual kids and just talk to them and see if they want to try wrestling.”

Cate also said he hopes to have some girls come out for the team.

“I’m 100-percent open to ladies coming out for the team and trying it,” he said. “I don’t know if there would be enough for their own team, but any steps I’d need to take to make that happen, I’m open to that. I’d love to have some girls out there.”

Even with a plan, though, many questions remain unanswered for Cate, just like with all programs during these uncertain times. Wrestling, being such a heavy-contact sport, is especially affected by social distancing and COVID-19 protocols, and it’s uncertain how the team will practice if those protocols are still in place when conditioning season starts.

“Well, that’s the big question,” Cate said. “Really I don’t know what will be going on at the time. We’re able to get on the mats Oct. 1. I know football has already started practicing in some capacity, and football is going to answer a ton of questions for us.

Right now, it’s kind of a wait and see. I would hope by then that everything is good to go and we can have wrestling as normal, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there’s a resurgence of the virus by that time of year. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they don’t let us wrestle this year.”

Even with all of the uncertainty, it’s a new day for the wrestling program at Clinton, and under Josh Cate, the future looks bright for the program. Still, Cate said he can’t do it alone, and he’s hoping the community will rally behind the program.

“For anybody reading, especially any kids, they just need to look at this as an opportunity,” he said. “I know the program has been weak, but we have an opportunity now to get out there and create something new and they could be one of the pioneers of a new program. It’ll take teacher support, school support, community support, but everyone really has the opportunity now to step up and be a part of creating something special.”