FRANKLIN, Tenn.–Off in the distant remnants of the Sequatchie Valley, St. Andrew’s-Sewanee sits as a beacon of history, a history where they competed at the forefront of Valley athletics.
Almost a complete manifestation of that idea, Sam Montgomery stands in the corner of the Williamson County Agricultural Exposition Park coaching two wrestlers who are lost in the multitudes of brackets and matches taking place at the State Wrestling Tournament.
Montgomery was long known for his talents as a football coach, but underlying the hard-nosed nature of his gridiron stature were his instinctive wrestling traits that he now displays as the St. Andrew’s-Sewanne wrestling coach.
He still coaches the 8-man football team, but wrestling out on the mountain is where his heart lies. And if success is any indicator, his heart must be trying to beat through his husky chest.
“It is a big ordeal anytime you can make it to State in Tennessee,” Montgomery explained. “Mainly because areas like Chattanooga and Nashville are the best in the South. We’re trying to use it as a big stepping stone. It’s a blessing for us.”
On the girls’ front, the Mountain Lions’ Ferah Fortune fought her way to the tourney and edged into the medal rounds with a 3-0 decision over Greeneville’s Arya Shipe. She fell in 1:41 to Cumberland County’s Kaleigh Johnson in the 5th place match. Johnson faced Fortune in the first round earlier in the tournament.
“Ferah is a returning state champion,” Montgomery added. “She finished 3rd in the region, and the two girls that beat her are going for 1 and 2 today. She had some sickness recently, but we worked through that. She’s come through a lot this year.”
Fortune wasn’t the only SAS wrestler to qualify as senior Christian Taylor went o-for-2 on the weekend, missing the medal rounds with a narrow 11-9 decision by McCallie’s Hayden Rowland.
“Compared to his record last year, he’s done a great job,” Montgomery said. “He finished 2nd in the region with McCallie, Baylor, and those kind of schools. He’s come through a lot this season, and that’s why he’s out team captain.”
Taylor and the male wrestlers from St. Andrew’s Sewanee face enormous challenges that stem from being a small private school on the outer edges of the Valley.
“We’re trying to get away from wrestling the big-time Division II programs,” Montgomery said. “We cannot compete with them on the team level because they have a bigger pool to pull from. We’d like to get out athletics up to that point, but right now, we just can’t compete with that.”
Montgomery, though, has had to make some big transitions from coaching Chattanooga public powers to a place like SAS.
“The biggest obstacle for me has been making the transition from public to private,” Montgomery said. “The academics at St. Andrew’s is very high. That’s a great thing, but sometimes as a coach, we want to monopolize their time and the teachers do, too. But the numbers game was also a big factor.”
And just as Montgomery represents the stature of the St. Andrew’s-Sewanee program, his wrestlers manifest his hard-nosed, tough-minded approach to athletics and life in general.