Thom Hensley sees the momentum building around wrestling in Polk County.
He’s hoping to keep that enthusiasm growing at the high school level – for some time to come.
“I think we have the best middle school coach in Western North Carolina in Jerry Cox,” Hensley said. “Russell Wilson does a great job with the youth program.
“When you look at programs, the best programs have had similar leadership for a long time. Part of Polk County’s struggles is that the program hasn’t had similar leadership for a long time. Hopefully I can bring some stability moving forward.”
Hensley has that opportunity as the Wolverines’ new head wrestling coach. An assistant at Polk County last season, Hensley is taking over the program with Scott Taylor’s move to West Henderson as the Falcons’ new head coach.
Though it will be Hensley’s first stint leading a program, he brings a wealth of experience to the Wolverines, having served as an assistant at R-S Central, Manteo and Crest. He’s worked with state champions and standouts throughout some 10 years in the sport and is ready to bring the knowledge gained along the way to Polk’s efforts.
“My coaching philosophy is simple – if I’m going to put the work in, you need to be putting it in also,” Hensley said. “Wrestling is a great sport because genetics don’t play as big of a factor 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 put the work in and made it happen. 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 ground up.”
Hensley, who teaches English at PCHS, is also joining Polk County’s football staff as an assistant coach, a move that Wolverine head coach Bruce Ollis thinks will benefit both programs.
“Football is a great recruiting ground for wrestling,” Ollis said. “We’ve had six athletes here win state championships in wrestling or be runners-up, and all have been football players.
“Thom sees the connection between the two sports and sees how it can help his numbers. I think he’ll have the program reaching new heights and getting it back to being a force in Western North Carolina. I have been really impressed with his work ethic.”
Hensley has already been active this summer with Polk wrestlers, taking them to compete against area schools. He’s been painting the Wolverine mat room as well as looking at designs for new uniforms.
It’s full speed 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 if we can hold ourselves accountable and demand discipline in our social, academic and athletic endeavours, we will put a product out on the mat that will make the Polk County community proud.
“My goal is in a few years to be competing with the best teams in North Carolina. That’s ambitious, but I’m hardcore and I believe it can be done at Polk County. I like to win, and I don’t want to wait five years when it can be done much sooner.”