Thom Hensley sees momentum building around Polk County wrestling.
He hopes to keep that enthusiasm growing for a while in high school.
“I think we have the best high school coach in Western North Carolina in Jerry Cox,” Hensley said. “Russell Wilson is doing a great job with the youth program.
“If you look at programs, the best programs have long had similar leadership. Part of Polk County’s struggle is that the program hasn’t had a comparable leadership in a long time. Hopefully I can bring some stability in the future.”
Hensley has that opportunity as the new Wolverines head wrestling coach. Hensley was an assistant at Polk County last season and is taking over with Scott Taylor’s move to West Henderson as the new head coach of the Falcons.
Although it will be Hensley’s first stint to lead a program, he brings a wealth of experience to the Wolverines, having served as an assistant to RS Central, Manteo and Crest. Having worked with state champions and luminaries in the sport for some 10 years, he is ready to bring the knowledge he learned along the way to Polk’s endeavours.
“My coaching philosophy is simple – if I’m going to put the work in, you should too,” Hensley said. “Wrestling is a great sport because genetics doesn’t play as big a role as other sports. If you’re 110 pounds and 5-2, you can still be great.
“I’ve had the opportunity to coach eight state champions and four other state finalists in my career, and none of those guys were great athletes when they started, but they did the job and it worked. I think we can be very successful in just a few seasons, but it will take a lot of work and buy-in from the start.”
Hensley, who teaches English at PCHS, will also join the Polk County football staff as an assistant coach, a move Wolverine head coach Bruce Ollis believes will benefit both programs.
“Football is a great recruiting ground for wrestling,” said Ollis. “We’ve had six athletes here who won state wrestling championships or came in second, and they’ve all been footballers.
“Thom sees the connection between the two sports and sees how it can help his grades. I think he will take the program to new heights and make it a force again in Western North Carolina. I am really impressed with his work ethic.”
Hensley has already been active with Polk wrestlers this summer, taking them to compete against local schools. He painted the Wolverine mat room and looked at designs for new uniforms.
Things are moving full steam ahead for Hensley, even with the official start of the 2022-23 season still a few months away.
“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “We have the best schools, the best community and the best kids. I believe that if we can hold ourselves accountable and demand discipline in our social, academic and athletic endeavours, we will be launching a product that will make the Polk County community proud.
“My goal is to compete with the best teams in North Carolina in a few years. That’s ambitious, but I’m hardcore and I believe it can be done in Polk County. I like to win and I don’t want to wait five years if it can be much sooner.”