EMORY, Va. — One year ago, Emory & Henry football assistant Pete Hansen received a life-changing offer.
“I heard a rumor that Emory was going to start a wrestling program,” said Hansen, who excelled at the sport in high school and college.
After talking with his wife over the Christmas break, the 38-year-old Utah native originally decided not to apply for the job.
Flash forward a few weeks later. Hansen was in the school cafeteria when he was approached by a couple of E&H students.
“The guys told me they would stay in school if I became the wrestling coach,” Hansen said. “That made me think, and I called our athletic director (Anne Crutchfield). Anne said she was getting ready to offer the job to someone but asked I was interested.”
The next morning, Crutchfield interviewed Hansen for the position.
On Feb. 18, Hansen was hired as the first men’s and women’s wrestling coach at E&H.
The debut match for the Wasps has been set for Jan. 13 against Averett University, with a 7 p.m. start at the King Center.
“The response from area coaches and athletes to what we’re doing here has been amazing,” Hansen said. “I think wrestling is a perfect fit for the college.”
So what has been the most common question from the public?
“People want to know what took Emory so long to get a wrestling program,” Hansen said. “It’s about time.”
Hansen knows wrestling.
In addition to playing on the defensive line for the Southern Virginia University football team, Hansen qualified for the National Collegiate Wrestling Association national tournament three times as a heavyweight and placed fifth nationally in 2009.
Following stints on the football staffs at Methodist and Frostburg State, Hansen began work under E&H head football coach Curt Newsome last year.
“Coach Newsome has been a great help during this transition, especially with scheduling and practice time,” Hansen said. “We were able to get in around 20 practices this past fall, and the kids have been raring to go for the season ever since.”
At this point, no spectators will be allowed for E&H home matches. Hansen hopes to schedule up to six dual or tri-meets.
“I’ve been looking at my calendar and counting down the day until the start of the season. That will be a big deal for us,” said Hansen, who resumed practice with his team on Dec. 29.
Ferrum is currently the only other school in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference to offer both men’s and women’s wrestling. Washington and Lee University has a men’s program while Roanoke College and Shenandoah University are adding the sport.
E&H has 15 male wrestlers on the roster, including Derick Endicott (Grundy), Matthew Cox (Marion), Ethan Hughes (Chilhowie), Dalton Biggs (Galax) and football standout Donovan Pinnix from Reidsville, North Carolina.
Chilhowie sophomore Andreia Langley, who starred at Ferrum last year, is the lone athlete in the women’s program. Kayla Bartosch, who wrestled at King University, was hired Dec. 1 as an assistant to Hansen.
The Wasps practice in the old gym at the Martin-Brock Student Center. The facility features two new mats along with new lockers and other pieces of equipment.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hansen has been forced to rely on emails and phone calls to navigate the recruiting process.
“I’ve been using every resource I can,” Hansen said. “There are great wrestling programs in this region, and we plan to hit them hard, plus we’ve heard from coaches and wrestlers around the nation. I think there will be an overwhelming support for the program in time.”
Hansen has also been in contact with leaders of youth wrestling clubs in Abingdon and Bristol.
“With Old Dominion University cutting its wrestling program, we will eventually be the only NCAA Division II school in Virginia competing at a high level and offering scholarships,’” Hansen said.
It’s been a busy year for Hansen, but the former football coach has no regrets about his new path.
“I had invested a lot of time into a career with football, so I was just going to support the wrestling program at first,” Hansen said. “I’ve always loved the sport, and I enjoyed being a mentor to young wresters.
“I enjoy what I’m doing now, and I really think we have a chance of accomplishing great things here.”
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