Wrestling patron has created something special

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, August 13, 2015

Rod Gaddy, right, with former Oak Mountain High School and current Olympic ladder wrestler Josh Greer. (Contributed)

Rod Gaddy, right, with former Oak Mountain High School and current Olympic ladder wrestler Josh Greer. (Contributed)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

When talking about the Alabama Wrestling Club, the discussion has to start and end with Rod Gaddy. Gaddy, the owner and founder of the AWC, has been wrestling all his life. He wrestled at Vestavia Hills in the mid ‘90s where he won an individual state championship along with two team state championships before going to Upper Iowa University where he became an All-American. He then returned to Vestavia where he helped coach the Rebels to four additional state championships before branching out and starting AWC.

Gaddy had a good thing going at Vestavia. He was helping to coach one of, if not the, premier wrestling program in the state at the time, and most people would have been satisfied with that, especially considering he was in his early 20s during this time. But he had bigger aspirations.

“At Vestavia we were really good,” Gaddy said. “But wrestling in the state wasn’t very difficult. There weren’t any clubs, there was no year-round wrestling. The best kids in Alabama weren’t the best kids in the country. I wanted to open up a club for kids to have access to a good wrestling program all the time.”

To make this happen, Gaddy enlisted the help of Shane Bowman, who was coaching at Hoover at the time, and had been a four-time state champion in Virginia to create the idea for the first wrestling club in Alabama.

Once the idea had been planted, Gaddy felt compelled to see it through, the problem was he wasn’t entirely sure how to do that.

“We really didn’t know what to do,” he said. “We really didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know what hours to keep or what days to practice. It really wasn’t my intention to make it a full-time job. The only thing we knew was that we were fortunate to have good coaches, and we knew good coaches made a huge difference. That was kind of our thinking. We just wanted to open the access.”

Gaddy and Bowman planned for 6 months before opening the club. Gaddy poured his life savings into the club. He went all in, buying all the equipment and renting the space required to create a conducive atmosphere to the kind of club he wanted to run. In order to drive revenue initially, Gaddy and Bowman pitched 16 families on the idea, all of which were connected to one or the other through Hoover or Vestavia’s wrestling programs. Gaddy and Bowman asked each of the 16 families to commit to the new club for a year, and to pay for the year up front to help cover the cost of running the club. Of those 16, 15 said yes.

That happened in 2002. Soon after the club opened, Bowman bowed out and moved away, leaving Gaddy completely in charge. Now, the club is going on 13 years of operation, has two locations at Spain Park High School and Hewitt-Trussville High School and is opening up a third in Tuscaloosa, and has churned out 138 individual state champions as well. There is no question that the AWC is the most successful, along with the most historic wrestling club in the state. Gaddy took a chance on a dream, and it has paid off in spades. He’s proud of his clubs record on the mat, as he rightfully should be, but he is even more excited about what wrestling has done in the lives of the kids he has come in contact with.

“We kind of use wrestling to open up doors for our athletes academically that probably wouldn’t be there for them otherwise,” he said. “We have kids get to go to Ivy League schools to wrestle.”

Gaddy shared the story of Robert Dyar, who came to AWC after his eighth grade season ended as a 75-pound kid with a club foot. After working with AWC and Gaddy, Dyar became the No. 1 ranked 112-pound wrestler in the nation as a senior in high school. He earned a scholarship to the University of Columbia, where he wrestled for four years, and now attends the University of Alabama’s law school.

“He was a good student, not a bad student,” Gaddy said. “He probably had like a 3.2 GPA in high school. But he got to go to Columbia because of wrestling and now is in law school.”

Gaddy has all kinds of stories about wrestlers who have trained under him, kids that now coach for him, guys that have climbed the Olympic ladder in their respective weight and styles and others that have just gotten a good education because of the doors wrestling was able to open.

Again, most would be content with the life Gaddy has carved out. There were 48 wrestling clubs in the state last year, he said, which is exciting to Gaddy, but his dream for the sport is still to take it to larger heights.

“From a 40,000 foot perspective, we want wrestling at SEC schools, we want wrestling at Alabama and Auburn,” he said. “The economy plays into that, sure. It has to be the right time, but we want there to be enough of a need in the state for wrestling to where if Alabama was looking to add a non-revenue producing sport, we want it to be wrestling and not lacrosse or anything else.”

The argument that the SEC is not going to add sports that do not produce money is not one Gaddy agrees with, either. His point is that there are no revenue-producing sports available for colleges to add, and if schools do choose to add a sport, they will do so with the knowledge it won’t bring in money. His goal is to make sure wrestling has enough of a cultural footprint in Alabama to make its addition to the SEC a reality when and if those schools look to add another sport.

“People think I’m crazy, I’ve been offered college jobs, but that isn’t my calling,” Gaddy said. “My life’s ambition is to help grow wrestling to a level that none of us can ever imagine.”