Randolph-Henry wrestlers claim district title for first time in decades

Published 8:39 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

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It all comes down to the basics. That’s what coaches Chris and Erica Weatherford drilled into the heads of each wrestler at Randolph-Henry High. Forget the fancy moves you watched on Tik Tok or anything you picked up on television. 

“We chose some basic stuff, did a handful of (moves) and drilled them over and over until they were proficient enough to win,” Chris said. 

And win they did. For the first time in more than two decades, the Randolph-Henry Statesmen won this year’s James River District Wrestling Championship. It’s important to note that out of 22 wrestlers, the majority had never competed in the sport before this season. There were seven veterans and 15 newbies. Chris and Erica themselves were on somewhat new ground, as this was Chris’s first time as a head coach, having served as an assistant for last year’s team. 

“It was a lot of work for everyone, getting in the basics,” Chris said. “But they showed up, put in the work and showed heart. All of that showed up at (the) district competition.” 

With the district competition held at Nottoway High School on Jan. 24, Randolph-Henry didn’t just walk away with the overall title. Five of the team’s wrestlers made the All-District team. They included Samantha Van der Weken, Jackson Ruppel-Lee, Aiden Bryant, Donovan Blanton and Tre Wheeler. 

In the competition, Cumberland High came in second, Amelia finished third and Nottoway High placed fourth. Randolph-Henry staff applauded the team’s effort and achievements. 

“The James River District Championship win marks a significant milestone for Randolph-Henry High School wrestling, showcasing the team’s commitment to excellence and the pursuit of athletic achievement,” said Randolph-Henry Principal Erin Davis. “As we celebrate this win, we extend our heartfelt congratulations to the entire wrestling team, coaches, and managers.” 

A change of plans

Originally, the couple had come to this area to retire. Having both served in the military, Chris and Erica moved to Meherrin from the Hampton Roads area with their kids. Once they got the kids enrolled in Charlotte County schools, Chris started hearing that there was a need for coaches. Having wrestled when he was in school and possessed of a love for contact sports, last year, he took on the assistant coaching position for the wrestling team, while also working as the physical education teacher. Then when the head spot came open, he took that challenge as well. 

But the team needed some extra help and so Chris reached out to his wife. 

“I let (the school administration) know we need a female presence because the female side of the sport is growing here,” Chris said. 

He asked Erica if she would join and she agreed, proving a quick study. 

“Wrestling was new to me,” Erica said. “We met in the military, so I had the combatives and all that, but the rules and regulations for wrestling, I was learning as I went. I think it’s been great.” 

She said one of the most encouraging things is how the group developed as a family of sorts. If someone was struggling with class, with practice or in anything, the rest of the team would be there to lend a hand, if that meant helping them study or working with them in practice. 

Randolph-Henry team looks ahead 

With the district trophy in hand, now the Statesmen go on the road this weekend to work on the next step. Regionals will take place this weekend at Poquoson. In order to qualify for the state competition, a wrestler has to place in the top three at the regional level. 

“And that’s our goal,” Chris said. “It’s to bring as many of our wrestlers to states as possible. That’s our next hurdle.” 

But beyond this week or this season, Chris and Erica said it feels good to have so much support for the team in the community. And they’re excited to see the team grow and develop. 

“The sport is growing here and we want to be part of that,” they said.