Nearly three years ago, Temonte Gray was one of the first wrestlers recruited by Patrick & Henry Community College.
The 2020 graduate of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake sparked interest from the Patriots, who at the time were trying to start a program for the first time.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and things changed. P&HCC postponed the start of the wrestling program and Gray postponed college, instead moving to Charlotte, North Carolina.
A year later, Gray reached out to incoming Patriots coach Chad Lange.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was very young,” Gray said in a recent phone interview. “It’s always been in me to want to come back to wrestling after high school. In my senior year, we won a state championship, so I was already ready for the next level. One day in Charlotte, I just called coach Chad and he said I could come in and just stopped the next week and ended up in PH.
Lange took over the P&HCC wrestling program over the winter. Building a whole new program, especially still in the midst of a pandemic, was “scary,” Lange said. But he was always up for the challenge.
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“It was a lot of firsts,” said Lange, who came to P&HCC after coaching at Patrick County High School. “First season. My first season as a college coach. It was a challenge. That’s how we started… I was going into it wanting to learn too, but I was up for the challenge I was coaching high school, college and youth and when that happened, I was like, you know, let’s try.
The season started with eight wrestlers, but ended with just one – Gray.
This one, however, helped add another first for the program, reaching the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship Tournament.
Gray competed at the Nationals March 4-5 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He qualified for the national championships after a solid 3-1 performance in the district tournament last month at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania.
Even after several months away from the sport, having come from such a strong high school, Lange saw the skills Gray brought with him early on. The Patriots coaching staff, including assistants Nate McKenzie and Draygon West, didn’t have to do much to improve the rookie’s wrestling abilities, just “helped guide him a bit more,” said said Lange.
“The kid is quick. The kid is quick and he works hard,” Lange added of Gray. “He knows what needs to be done and he’s going to walk into the room and work hard and lose his pound or whatever he needs to do. We’ll watch a video about his next school and work out what we see there and what he needs to do, but the kid is a hard worker overall.
After starting out with a full team, Gray said it got harder and harder throughout the season as he narrowed down to single-handedness. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he took on the mindset that he was going to take P&HCC as far as he could.
“It all happened for me to stay tough and just be strong enough to get through the season,” Gray said. “So I guess that was the best part where it was all on me and I just had to carry PH on my back.
“It was a lot of hard work. A lot… A lot of matches too. I see I had a lot more games than usual than other community colleges. I traveled with my coaches to different places. He had tried to get me into tournaments that I never thought I would go to, so it was really on my coach. He helped me out. »
Gray went 0-2 in Iowa, and while he said he could have performed better, it was a great experience overall.
“I had never been to Iowa before, so it was very new to me,” he said. “The environment inside was very nice. Many people attended. You could see a lot of great wrestlers wrestling hard. It was just something different. It was exciting. Some of my family members came so they gave me a little support, a lot of support, so it was a blessing.
Regardless of how Gray ended up at nationals, he and Lange agreed that it was important for the program to have just one competitor in attendance.
Lange, has taken to social media to publicize his and Gray’s national experience and hopefully use it as a recruiting tool. He’s gotten a lot of responses from dads, coaches, and wrestlers on Facebook who are interested in the P&HCC.
“I talk to a lot of kids and I have a list of kids that I hope this summer we’ll have engagements for,” Lange said. “I’m working on quantity rather than quality at the moment. We need 10 for a full team. I would like to have 20 in the room. It would be good.
“I really hope they see us and say, ‘Wow, qualifying for the national championships. I want to go work with this guy and this coach and this school.'”
Gray still doesn’t know if he’ll return to P&H next season. He’s had some interest from 4-year-old schools who would like him to transfer, and he’s now back home taking all his classes online and staying in shape to hopefully compete. somewhere next year.
Wherever he goes, Gray is grateful for the experience he has gained at P&HCC and is happy to have been able to help create a program he hopes will be even more successful in the years and decades to come.
“It’s really nice to know that I’m the first to go to the nationals there,” Gray said. “I know it’s opened a lot of eyes for young people…for the school to enter a new world with wrestling, to know what it’s like. And hopefully there’s a future and in 20 years it’s just a much bigger program than it is now. They can look back and see my name up there.
“First of all, it kind of puts us on the map like, oh wow, they have a wrestling team,” Lange said. “I think people are going to say, ‘wow they know what they’re doing there. They’re willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to make it happen. I’m just happy we’re on the map . Martinsville area, Patrick and Henry County community college. It’s good.”
Cara Cooper is a sports editor for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at [email protected]