By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
RINCON – The ring's the thing and South Effingham handed out a bunch to the members of its state championship wrestling team July 23 at the New Ebenezer Retreat Center.
Mustang wrestlers exchanged their singlets for coats and ties and basked in the accolades that came with achieving the school's first team state championship – a nice meal and handshakes from SEHS principal Dr. Torian White and school district superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford who passed out the bling.
Then pictures … loads of pictures.
"I'm almost speechless about it because I'm kind of shocked it happened," SEHS coach Christopher Bringer said. "When I look back at all the goals we accomplished that were set forth last summer, I'm kind of dumbfounded."
Bringer wanted his squad to exceed an academic grade-point average above 3.1.
They posted a 3.4 team GPA. Check.
Bringer wanted to beat rival Effingham County by more than 20 points.
Finish in the top three in every tournament.
Win Region Duals at Glynn Academy.
Win Team Duals Prelims and qualify for state.
Finish in the top three at Macon.
Forget about second or third. The Mustangs galloped past Lassiter and Creekview before stunning top-seeded North Forsyth in the finals 36-28 on Jan. 21 in Gainesville.
"Think about the process you've been through," Ford told the wrestlers. "Think about the life lessons you've experienced and share them with others. Share the process."
It hasn't always been easy. A year earlier, South jumped out to a great start only to fall to Brunswick in the region finals. In the prelims, the Mustangs were stampeded by Buford 66-6.
Bringer's memory goes back to darker times when he thought about his first summer practice at SEHS four years ago.
"Five kids showed out of about 30," Bringer said. "A lot of naysayers said, "They're not going to show up. They're not committed." Now we have almost 100 percent (attendance) to every event. Our culture has changed. I think I demanded a lot. It took a while but now it's student run. I have the perfect brand of kids."
And South has the perfect coach – a military man who added team concept into an individual's sport.
With 10 returning starters, led by 285-pound weight class champion Ashton Anderson, South should be a big favorite to win another team title in 2024.
"I'm actually more motivated to win another title than I ever have been because I know we can do it," Bringer said. "We have the team to do it and I'm going to push them to do it."