Three years ago, the Spartans scored 10 points and finished 15th out of 16 teams at the Cobb County Invitational. That same season, they failed to record a single team point and placed last at the Region 6AAAAA traditional meet.
How things have changed.
Fresh off the heels of a sixth-place showing out of 13 teams in the MTXE Invitational at Lassiter, Campbell has grown to become a solid program with wrestlers capable of surprising opponents in any one match.
Although Campbell scored only 25 points and finished 16th out of 17 teams at the 2011 county tournament, the results of the Spartans’ hard work was evident when they finished sixth at the Region 4AAAAA traditional tournament and qualified five wrestlers to the Class AAAAA state sectional.
The program really began to take off last season when Campbell scored 76 points and placed 12th out of 19 teams at county. It then finished fifth at the region meet and sent 10 wrestlers to sectionals.
Jamez Taylor (132 pounds) and Alex Cooke (285) both advanced to the state championships, with Taylor placing fourth overall. He became Campbell’s first state placer since Mike Enos was the 171-pound state runner-up in 2001.
The reason for the Spartans’ rise to prominence has been due to the consistency and dedication of those involved with the program, including that of coach Shawn Slenczka, who is in his fourth season at the school.
Slenczka said Campbell has had five coaches in 10 years, so his tenure has been the longest during that span. An assistant coach his first season, he took over the reins of the program entering the 2009-10 campaign, and has turned the Spartans into winners.
“That first year, I had about eight to 12 guys who didn’t know much about wrestling,” Slenczka said. “They had limited skills and didn’t know how to work hard. I had to get kids to buy into what I was doing and get them to focus on progress and not just wins and losses.
“For them to have this kind of consistency in wrestling, and with their lives, has played a big part in their success. Just to see progress has helped, and the promises that the wins would come with hard work has paid off.”
It hasn’t been easy, however.
For years, the school’s wrestling room was located in a basement area nicknamed the “dungeon.” But due to recent flooding, a physical education locker room on the main floor was converted into a new wrestling room, and this past summer, the majority of the lockers were finally taken out, giving the wrestling team more room to work.
Through Slenczka’s efforts, as well those of as assistant coach Andrew Wallick and strength and conditioning coach Nick Bearden, the program has grown from as few as eight wrestlers to 30 this year. And Slenczka has seen a group of six wrestlers — Taylor, Charles Robinson, Jeremie Tuzizila, John Beasley, Mac Blaylock and Jaderis Victrum — grow from having almost no background in wrestling to becoming senior leaders that carry the team with their attitude and effort.
“That’s a core group that has wrestled together for at least three years — a few of them even four years — and that consistency has been huge,” Slenczka said. “Getting someone like Jamez in the room has been huge. He had some knowledge and a drive to win. Having him has helped show the other kids how it’s done. He’s the heart and soul of this team.”
Taylor acknowledged that Slenczka helped make him a better wrestler, and he’s enjoyed the growth he’s seen in himself.
“Having coach here the entire time I’ve been wrestling has been great,” Taylor said. “He’s tough and he’s taught me a lot. His mentality and attitude is to just keep going. It’s exciting to see where I’ve been since freshman year, and I look forward to taking my talents to the next level.”
Robinson, another fourth-year wrestler, has also enjoyed seeing the team succeed this season.
“We weren’t that good my freshman year,” he said. “Sophomore year on up, though, we’ve started to improve. The six of us are like a family and we stick together all the time. People know us in the hallways as the new start of Campbell wrestling, and we’re going to keep getting better.”
Slenczka has high hopes for this season, and he feels like the best is yet to come.
“I knew this would be a big year for us and the seniors would lead the team,” he said. “I have guys starting as sophomores, so our progress as a program is speeding up.
“Our goal every year is to vie for the region championship. I feel like we have a shot, especially this year. We want to be competitive with the other region teams and challenge them every time we meet.”