On March 5, 2022, Blackman Wrestling Club won the TNAAU State Championships at the Farm Bureau Event Center in Lebanon, TN, becoming the 1st Middle Tennessee area club to do so since at least 2012, according to tournament records on Trackwrestling, which was the farthest back that was available to review. With a club record 61 State Qualifiers and 58 State Participants this season, Blackman placed 28 young wrestlers, boys and girls, onto the podium, accumulating a tournament high 472.0 points, 22.0 ahead of defending State Champions, Higher Calling Wrestling Club from Cleveland.
“The team score wasn’t anything we were overly concerned about”, said Club President and Coach Troy Steffy. “We were more focused on the kids and helping them achieve their goals individually as best as we could. I don’t even think any of us even knew we were in the lead until the Middle School session.”
After the morning session in which the Tots, Bantam, and Midget divisions competed, Blackman was in the Top 5 overall, and Runners-up in the Bantam Division. Bantam 55lb stud Joshua Hughey led the way with a State Championship performance, his first. Maddox Westenbarger contributed a Herculean effort in which he won 6 straight Consolation matches en route to a 2nd place finish at Bantam 65lbs. Kaine Houston, who placed 3rd at Bantam 70lbs, Hudson Sinor, who placed 4th at Bantam 45lbs, and Kyson Leaver, who placed 5th at Tots 50lbs, were all also strong contributors. Micah Molina, 5th place, and Aiden Sullivan, 3rd place, both also placed in their first seasons as well.
“I think the morning session went about like we thought it would,” Club Vice President and Coach Mike Workman explained. “I know there were a few of the kids that would’ve liked to place higher, and a few others that just missed out on medaling that we thought would be there, but overall I think we were pretty happy with where we were after that session.”
Up next in the Second Session were the Girls Division and the Junior Division. The Junior Division had consistently been one of the best in the state throughout the season, winning the Gatlinburg and Chattanooga Top 100s, as well as the Music City Brawl and the Region 3 Championships.
“We knew that if we were going to have a shot, that our Juniors would need to wrestle at a pretty high level, and they did,” said Coach Workman. “They had been consistent all season long. We couldn’t have asked much more from them.”
Henry Baker, 85lbs, and Trevor Steffy, 105lbs, both won State Championships in their respective weight classes, with Steffy awarded the Most Outstanding Wrestler award in the Junior Division, an honor given to the Champion with the most pins in the least amount of time.
“I truly feel as if both Henry and Trevor had excellent shots at winning state in 2020, but that was canceled due to the COVID Pandemic”, Coach Steffy said. “Seeing them both win it this year takes off a little bit of that sour taste. I don’t think either of those two were going to be denied this time. You could see it every time they were on the mat.”
Oakley Pipkin, 120lbs, and Slade Linton, 75lbs, both finished strong with 2nd place finishes. Pipkin made the finals for the first time in his career, and Linton wrestled back through the consolation bracket following a decision loss to the eventual champion, defeating the 1st and 2nd seeds along the way to a True Second placement in one of the deeper brackets of the tournament. Karson McCrary notched his 2nd TNAAU State Medal, placing 4th in the 100lb bracket, club newcomer Tyler Knight placed 5th in the 65lb bracket, and Ryley Correll placed 6th in the 70lb bracket to round out a group that scored 142.5 points overall, winning the State Championship for that Division.
Victoria Rubio, 3rd at 65lbs, and Dixie Beasley, 4th at 50lbs, anchored the Girls K-2nd Grade for Blackman, while Aria Thephavong, 2nd at 58lbs, Ava Westenbarger, 3rd at 58lbs, and Trinity Beasley, 6th at 73lbs, combined to lead the Girls 3rd-5th Grade group to a 2nd place finish in the division. Lyla Olesen was just one win away from medaling in her first year wrestling.
“Our Girls Division continues to grow,” explains Coach Workman. “Last season the points the ladies scored helped us finish 2nd overall, and this year they helped us win the Championship. If you really dive deep into what the difference was between us and the clubs that placed 2nd and 3rd, you’ll notice that it was the points that these girls gave us. It was a big deal having them compete for us. I can’t stress that enough. We are proud of them.”
Finally in the Evening Session, the Middle School group placed 2nd in their division, but managed to hold off a late surge by Higher Calling to cement the overall State Championship.
“I believe it was Coach Crain from Seymour that told me we were in the lead after the Second Session. They’d been in the lead a good portion of the day and he mentioned that we’d overtaken them,” explains Coach Steffy. “I knew there’d be a strong push to by Higher Calling. They’ve got some heavy hitters in that division. I knew it was going to be tight.”
Thomas Rubio, 2nd at 120lbs, was the highest placer for Blackman in the session, losing the finals match to Malachi Puckett from Buccaneer Wrestling who’d placed at the TSSAA High School State Championships a week prior as an 8th Grader. Drew Workman, 100lbs, and Grady Phelps, 90lbs, both finished 3rd, Landon McLean, 135lbs, Houston Rettig, 145lbs, and Yamil Rashid, 189lbs, all placed 4th, Tyson Spink, 220lbs, placed 5th, and Statum Relford, 95lbs, and Kaiden Hughes, 130lbs, both placed 6th to round the medalists for the group whose 142.0 points solidified the Overall State Championship.
“It’s a tough group,” said Coach Workman. “Just like all the others, there were a few more that we would have liked to see make the podium, but even those that didn’t helped contribute enough points to the overall total. Total group effort today. From Tots all the way to Middle School, every point mattered.”
Since 2012, the TNAAU State Championship have been dominated by the Chattanooga Area clubs with the Red Raiders (Baylor) winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013, Buccaneer Wrestling (Boyd Buchanan) winning back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019, and Higher Calling (Cleveland) winning championships in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2021. Prior to this season, Blackman had managed a 3rd place finish in 2017 and a 2nd place finish in 2021. Blackman coaches shared the Coach of the Year award as well!
“We have a good culture here,” explained Coach Steffy. “I think there’s always been good numbers in the club, even before I got here before the 2019-2022 season. Now instead of the same 15-20 kids competing every weekend, it’s the same 50-70 competing. Everyone has bought in and it’s starting to take hold. It’s refreshing to see the parents starting to remind other parents to get their wrestler signed up, and offering to help others that are new to the sport, offering up rides to tournaments when needed, and even sticking around to watch kids in other divisions compete. That plus the support we get from Coach Bray, his coaches and wrestlers, and Blackman High School is really starting to establish our club as one of the best in the State. We couldn’t be any more proud of the work that is being done here.”
Although primarily feeding Blackman High School, the club doesn’t limit it’s membership solely to those living within the relatively small footprint of the Blackman School Zones.
“Right now we have kids in our club from Nashville, Pleasant View, Chapel Hill, Spring Hill, and virtually every Rutherford County school zone,” said Coach Workman. “Plus there isn’t a time during the offseason when you can come into our wrestling room and not see kids from surrounding areas and nearby clubs training with us. We welcome anyone so long as they’re willing to come in, work hard, and be a good partner. But the vast majority of our kids will feed into Blackman and the High School is starting to see their investment in the club and the future HS wrestlers pay off.”
In February, Blackman High School placed 3rd at the TSSAA State Championships, a team record, medaling 7 wrestlers with 2 of those, Justin Bradford and Joshua Chew, winning State Championships. Each of the 7 medalists came up through the Blackman Wrestling Club system. Overall, Blackman High School’s starting line-up for 2021-22 had former club wrestlers in 10 of the 12 weight classes, with the club adding 5-6 more wrestlers to the high school roster for the 2022-23 season.
“It really is one big program, from top to bottom,” explained Coach Steffy. “We are thrilled to be able to help contribute to the high school’s success by developing these young athletes into high school ready wrestlers and watching them develop bonds with one another that they will carry with them to high school and beyond. There is a great support system here in the club and in the High School program. One doesn’t succeed without the other.”
Although the TNAAU season has ended, wrestling never really does. Blackman has an established Freestyle and Greco wrestling club that trains and competes during the TNUSAW season, and is active during the summer months with camps, open mats, practices, and competitions. For more information, visit www.blackmanwrestling.com