Southwest DeKalb wrestling program makes history

Southwest DeKalb High School senior Ayla Evans won DeKalb County School District’s (DCSD) first-ever gold medal in the Georgia High School Association’s (GHSA) Girls’ Traditional State Wrestling Championships on Feb. 15-17 in Macon, while Southwest DeKalb senior Isaiah Scott repeated as the 215-class state champion on the boys’ side.

It was Evans’ first trip to the state title meet since 2021, but she guaranteed herself a spot in Macon with a perfect record through the regular season, county championships, and sectionals — ending with a 23-0 record after going undefeated in state.

“She was DeKalb’s only girls’ sectional winner too,” said Keith Johnson, who coaches the boys’ and girls’ wrestling teams at Southwest Dekalb.

Evans pinned Taylor Schiesser of Gilmer County 2:45 into the match to claim the gold medal in three consecutive wins by pin fall in Macon. She opened the state meet with a pin of Shaylee Bachand of Burke County in the 235-class quarterfinals. She also won the semifinal match against Zy Edwards of Oglethorpe County with a pin.

Her win helped Southwest DeKalb to a tie for 14th overall in the team standings and paired with the boys’ top 12 finish.

Scott led the charge for the boys by winning gold over fellow DeKalb wrestler Romando Craddock of Stephenson in an 8-4 final match.

Scott (19-1) got to the title match via wins by fall in his first two matches against Central-Carroll’s Ty Brewer (3:19) and Northwest Whitfield’s Landon Phillips (2:00). Craddock made the title match with wins over North Hall’s Kade Hawthorne (9-4) and Southeast Whitfield’s Joseph Morales (6-4, sudden victory 1).

“Our goal was to take it one match at a time. We had to take what we learned from our past matches and turn it into a championship,” said Johnson, referencing Southwest DeKalb’s three state championships from 2023.

After Scott graduates, Johnson said Southwest DeKalb wrestling will turn to freshman Amir Ferguson to lead the team.

Ferguson won bronze in the 285-class in Macon after losing a tiebreaker to Perry’s Donovan Fusch in the state semifinals to drop into the consolation bracket. Ferguson defeated Burke County’s Veunte Gross with a 4-1 decision in the consolation semifinals and Hardaway’s Da’Various Jessie with a 6-4 decision to capture the bronze medal.

“Amir’s finish was a huge statement as far as letting everyone know what the future holds. He showed that it doesn’t matter what grade you’re in as long as you work hard,” said Johnson. “We had a young team this year, but they did a great job of embracing our winning traditions. The three state champions we had last year… the kids see that, and they want to be a part of that.”

The same goes for the girls’ wrestling team.

Johnson added that “we take female wrestling just as seriously as the boys,” and that Evans will visit colleges and has been offered a scholarship. Scott is also planning to play sports at the next level, but Johnson said he’ll stick to the gridiron and use wrestling to make him a better football player.

The state championships show the level of skill at Southwest DeKalb, but Johnson said the next step is to continue their traditions with the younger athletes while building a deeper roster — the biggest obstacle in the way of Southwest DeKalb’s quest for a team gold medal.

“We have to work with our feeder schools to make sure we have more wrestlers coming to Southwest DeKalb,” said Johnson. “That’s basically our downfall in DeKalb. The other programs win gold because they have good feeder programs and big teams.”

Johnson added that his work with the feeder schools is focused on improving DeKalb as a whole and not just Southwest DeKalb.

“DeKalb is starting athletics in elementary school. So, I’m going to build a wrestling program at Stone Mill Elementary School, and this will help Stone Mountain High school. It doesn’t matter where they finish school, [having feeder programs] will help everybody out,” said Johnson.

Boys’ teams from Stephenson (19), Columbia (24), Miller Grove (28), Druid Hills (30), and Towers (30) all finished in the top 30 of their classifications at the state meet.

 

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