WAXHAW – A few weeks before the season ended, Marvin Ridge wrestling coach Troy Spencer noticed something at a tri-match featuring his Mavs and wrestlers from Monroe and Parkwood.
As individual wrestlers from the schools began warming up for their matches, Spencer saw one of the Redhawks getting prepared without shoes on.
“Any wrestler will tell you that you have to have a good pair of wrestling shoes to practice and compete in this sport,” Spencer said. “I drove to that match myself and I approached Monroe coach Chuck Johnson and said, ‘Does this kid need shoes? I have some in the trunk of my car.’ He said the kid wasn’t wrestling that day, but I asked him how it was over there. He told me he had to spend $1,900 of his own money this season to buy his kids gear.”
Finding value in helping
Johnson has been coaching and officiating wrestling for more than 30 years, most of that time being spent in the Chicago area.
There, Johnson said he tried to steer kids toward wrestling as a way to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
To keep them alive, really.
“I’m used to helping my kids out and doing it that way from being in Chicago,” Johnson said. “Those schools don’t have money, so someone had to do it. My rule of thumb is it’s better to keep them off the streets and get them in a wrestling program. They can get something out of it, you know?
“I’m trying to promote wrestling to keep kids out of trouble, but there’s so much more that it teaches them. Be confident. Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something. That’s what it’s about.”
Johnson came to the Monroe area this year and began officiating matches in the county. When someone approached him about Monroe needing a coach, he jumped at the chance before the season started.
Once he was there, Johnson quickly realized he was a very similar situation to where he had come from and he knew what he needed to do.
“I worked with the same type of kids back in Chicago,” he said. “Some people didn’t have the right equipment, so I pitched in and bought that. And I would pay for all of the refreshments and that kind of thing. I tried to be the financial backer of the team. A lot of the things had to be done, so I did it. They need equipment, food, shoes, insurance. It takes a lot to keep it going.
“But you just do what you do, man. I don’t have time to worry about it. It’s not the hall of fame or anything, but it’s making a difference.”
Doing something about it
Spencer doesn’t want any credit for his good deed.
A couple of years ago when one of the hurricanes hit hard on the eastern coast of the state, he helped organize a supply drive to help a needy school. They sent shoes, wrestling gear and supplies on that occasion, but chose to keep it quiet.
When Spencer talked about this story, he hesitated once I said I was interested in writing about it.
But to Johnson, it’s meant everything.
“Everybody talks about it, but few people do something about it,” he said. “I buy them what they need. I’m not rich or anything, but it’s making a difference.”
At the conference match a couple of weeks after Spencer approached him, Johnson went up to Spencer this time.
“I saw him at a match and just had asked him if I could buy his old stuff,” Johnson said. “I needed to scrounge up shoes somewhere.”
At first, Spencer said he agreed.
“I went home later that night and got to thinking about it, and I thought something just wasn’t right about it,” Spencer said. “I wasn’t going to make this man buy used wrestling shoes from one of probably the wealthiest schools in the county.”
Spencer pledged to spend $500 and emailed Marvin Ridge team mom Debbie Capul.
The next day, with the help of CTX Wrestling Academy, Capul and the Marvin Ridge middle and high school programs, the team had raised $1,400.
That resulted in 24 pairs of new wrestling shoes and “12 to 15 pairs” of slightly used shoes.
“The used shoes are like brand new. There isn’t anything wrong with them.” Johnson said with a laugh. “I had my team here when he came and they were totally flabbergasted. They walked in and saw all of these Nike shoes and all of this other stuff, we were all flabbergasted.
“I was really appreciative of that.”
Spencer said it wasn’t he didn’t do it for a write-up in the local paper, but it was the right thing to do and he’d do it again.
“The wrestling community in Union County is really tight-knit,” he said. “Even though we’re competitors we still practice together before regions and states. On the mat, we want to take it to them, but off the mat, we’re part of the same wrestling clubs, off-season and all that. When you see somebody in need or having a tough time you step up and help them out.
“He was pretty taken aback. He wasn’t expecting it, but man we help each other. They’re only 20 minutes away from us. His kids were pumped down there. We didn’t do it for the glory or anything, we just did it to help them out.”