ANNA – Anna High School students will soon be availed a new sports opportunity - wrestling - and the district has hired a head coach who knows plenty about starting up these programs. Kyle Stevens, who initiated the successful Frisco Heritage team 10 years ago, will now lead Anna’s fledgling push toward similar achievement on the mat.
“We’ve got a lot of interest,” Stevens said on June 12 at Anna High School. “The district did a survey of the current athletes to see what kind of interest there actually was in wrestling - and the interest with the kids is phenomenal.”
In 10 years as head coach at Heritage, Stevens’ teams produced 31 state-qualifiers, eight state-placers and a state champion. The boys’ team also had a pair of Top 10 finishes at regionals and the girls were regional runners-up one year and posted two Top 12 finishes at state.
Stevens is also the current president of the Texas High School Wrestling Coaches Association. He and his wife Angela have lived in Anna for almost seven years. They have a 10-year-old son, Dylan.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity to do what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years, right here where we’re living,” Stevens said.
Wrestling is the first new varsity sport to be introduced at Anna since soccer in 2011. The school added team tennis to its existing tennis program in 2015.
“We’re excited to start up wrestling here,” Anna athletic director Jason Heath said by phone on Friday. “It’s something we’ve been looking to try to do for several years. I think we have a pretty high interest from our student population. I know we’ve had a lot of people in the community, parents, asking about the possibility of getting it.
“We wanted to make sure we were fully prepared to dive into it. I feel like this is a good time to do that, with the growth and everything we have going on. … We’re blessed to have [Stevens] here. He’s a guy that’s well known around the state for his knowledge and coaching ability. And he lives here in Anna so he’s invested in the community.”
Heath wrestled a lot growing up in Oklahoma. “I wrestled for 12 years of my life, from the first grade on up,” he said. “There are some other disciplines and things that go along with it that I think our kids will benefit from.”
As for starting a wrestling program from scratch, Stevens said, “The first priority with kids is explaining to them what wrestling really is. Everybody’s got their conceptions of what it is.” He added that with more TV exposure for college wrestling and the Olympics in recent years, people better understand that “what we do is not the same thing as the WWE-type of wrestling.
“Typically, we start off with those fundamental skills and just repeat and repeat and repeat those. … One of the biggest differences with wrestling versus football or basketball competition is, it’s a 6-minute match and there’s no timeouts. Once the match gets started it’s all on the individual to know what they need to do.”
Getting young wrestlers to become independent enough to make those decisions is another big part of starting out, Stevens said. That, and the conditioning is a lot different, he noted.
Work is underway this summer to convert the field house at Anna’s Riggins Field into a wrestling room.
UIL wrestling includes two competition classifications, 6A and 5A and below. The sport was officially sanctioned for Texas high schools in 1999, but with just one classification. The smaller classification was added in 2012.
About 390 Texas high schools now compete in wrestling, up some 30 percent since the new classification was added, Stevens said.
Anna will compete in District 9-5A with 11 other schools: Highland Park, Wylie East, McKinney North, Lovejoy, Princeton, three Carrollton schools, Pittsburg, Gunter and Melissa.
Stevens, 41, said his teams have competed against several of these schools over the years. “I’ve got a good idea of what we’re going to get into. As we get better, as we build up the experience level, we’ll have a lot of good opportunities for advancement to regionals and then the state championships as well.”
Stevens has known Melissa head wrestling coach Rick Gagarin for nearly a decade. “I think that will be really fun. Melissa, when they added wrestling, they were in the Frisco district. So I know him pretty well from those days. … Getting to do another level of the Anna-Melissa rivalry, I’m excited for that.”
Melissa started its wrestling program about 10 year ago. “Kyle is a great wrestling coach,” Gagarin said via email. “And I know he will have the Anna wrestling team doing great things soon.”
Originally from Wichita, Kans., Stevens moved to Texas after graduating from Kansas University in 2002.
“When I first got down here, some of the top guys were pretty good, but it wasn’t very deep.” Now, he said, the sport is growing and some middle schools are starting to add wrestling programs.
Anna’s team will be co-ed but the UIL has separate divisions for girls and boys. “That’s one of things that the UIL did a really good job on when they sanctioned wrestling,” Stevens said. “Texas was one of the first three states that had a separate division for girls’ wrestling. I think there are now 14 or 15 states that have a separate sanctioned division for girls. Texas has always kind of been on the forefront of that movement.”
The 2019-20 wrestling season begins in November, with the state tournament slated for Feb. 21-22.