“Wrestle smart. Wrestle hard.” This is Central Academy of Excellence’s wrestling team’s motto. The concept is simple. Athletes are encouraged to use their head and give everything when they are on the mat, and wrestle with confidence.
Wrestling smart is what helped senior Craig Robinson make history; he is the first wrestler from Central to go to the Missouri State Wrestling Tournament in recent history.
“I am excited to go to state,” Robinson said. “I was one match away from state last year. I came into this season with the goal of leaving nothing on the mat, to make it to state. Coach helped make it happen.”
Central’s new coach is making a difference
Robinson is referring to first-year head coach Samantha Richardson. While Richardson is new to Central, she’s not new to wrestling. She was a successful wrestler throughout high school and college, holding district and regional championships as well as placing two times in state competition. Richardson was also named a Collegiate All-American when she attended Missouri Valley in Marshall, MO. Coaching was an easy transition.
“I have always wanted to coach,” said Richardson. “Over the years, I have helped coach at several schools including my alma mater, Atkins High School in Austin, TX.”
It was the Texas connection that brought Richardson to Central. Richardson was working as an apartment manager when she met Central’s principal Anthony Madry, also a Texas native. It was through their love of their home state, they started a conversation that eventually led to Richardon’s passion of wrestling. Hiring her as part of the Central team was logical.
“Samantha is an integral part of Central and has helped established a solid wrestling program for the boys and girls of our school,” Madry said. “She’s accomplished amazing things this year and I am very proud to have her as part of my team.”
Building a successful team
It was Richardson who created the motto “Wrestle smart. Wrestle hard.” This season, she worked with each athlete to set small goals and helped them achieve those goals.
“I tell every wrestler before they take the mat to wrestle smart, wrestle hard,” Richardson said. “I don’t care if you walk off with a loss as long as you give 110%. Show me you are making intelligent decisions and don’t give up.”
While the team was small, this year’s team was successful in their own way. Wrestlers achieved personal goals and improved over the course of the season. This year, the team included female wrestler Alexis Armstrong who competed in the 106 weight class. Armstrong was one match away from qualifying for state.
“I am proud of every wrestler on our team,” Richardson said. “Everyone worked hard and we came a long way from the beginning to the end of the season.”
Becoming the captain of the team
Richardson, the new coach on the block, was a little wary of having Robinson on the team. Senior attitudes can often be a detractor. However, when Robinson asked coach personally to be on team, Richardson was impressed with his modesty.
“Craig didn’t question me and let me be the coach,” Richardson said. “He then became a true captain of the team, the leader in the room. Younger athletes looked up to him, Craig answered questions and helped them with their technique. He ultimately changed the whole focus of the wrestling room.”
Last year, Robinson started wrestling in the 285 weight class and worked down to wrestle in the 220 class. This year, Robinson qualified for state in the 220 weight class.
“Wrestling is a positive outlet, I can be aggressive on the mat,” Robinson said. “It’s just him and me and it’s up to me to get the points to win. I can leave it all on the mat.”
To some, Robinson may look familiar. He was a member of Central’s football team, playing running back and defensive line this season. Robinson even scored the first touchdown on the new Central Field. After wrestling concludes, Robinson will play baseball. After graduation, Robinson plans to attend college to study construction management.
“Craig is an amazing kid, an athlete any coach would be happy to have on the team,” Richardson said. “He put the work in to make it to state and I can’t be any more proud of Craig.”
The state tournament starts Thursday, Feb. 15 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, MO.
To see photos of Craig at state, visit our Flickr page.