As Dean Hall stands on the mats at the training center located behind Louisa True Value, ready to begin his first practice as head coach of Louisa’s wrestling team, he has no choice but to smile to himself a little bit.
After years of scuffling his way out of his hometown, he’s been dragged back. And if you ask him, he couldn’t be happier.
“I didn’t think this would happen,” Hall admits. “I’m really glad it did. I love Louisa County. When I was younger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live here because it’s so rural, but the older I got the more I liked it. It feels like home. I have a close bond with every team I’ve coached, but because I’m from Louisa, these boys are more family to me than wrestlers.”
Hall was once in the same shoes as his wrestlers. He attended Louisa County High School, as did his father and two brothers, and wrestled as a freshman for the school’s very first wrestling coach, Bruno Sestito. But after his freshman year, Hall transferred to a nearby private school. Hall went on to have an illustrious career wrestling at Edinboro University and subsequently Longwood University, being named an All-American from 1986-88.
When his younger brother, Ryan, wrestled for Louisa in 2001, Hall returned as an assistant coach. It was during those practices that Hall, who won a state title while coaching at Radford High School in 1997, says he felt the urge to coach again.
“That’s when I first got a glimpse that Louisa should be a powerhouse in wrestling,” Hall said. “I saw it in the athletes, the community, and the way it came together. I thought, ‘Man, it would be cool to come back here and coach,’ but I never thought it would happen.”
After bouncing from coaching gigs in Albemarle and Fluvanna, Hall didn’t hesitate to apply to when Louisa’s coach Dan Bono stepped down last year.
“It’s my hometown. I grabbed it!” Hall said.
Now, Hall and his team are preparing for the season ahead. Currently in the midst of their first few weeks of practice, Hall has already taken the task upon himself to change the mindset of the wrestlers. Players are to talk about conference and district titles as if they expect to win them, not merely compete. Louisa hasn’t won a district title since it won back-to-back banners in 2005 and 2006, but that fact does little to deter Hall’s mindset.
“If you’re a quality program, you should be first or second in your district every year,” Hall said. “It’s just that simple.”
The head coach of Fluvanna last year, Hall even wore his Flucos wrestling shorts to the Lion’s first practice as motivation, since Fluvanna soundly defeated Louisa last season. With the Lions only losing one senior from last year, the memories of many hard defeats still linger in the minds of the wrestlers.
And it’s that unified mindset of his wresters that Hall is using as fuel. One could almost say he preaches an “us against the world,” mentality, but Hall prefers to look at it from a different angle.
“Our motto this year is ‘Pride,’” Hall said. “Wrestling means something more to us than just our school or our individual selves. We need to be a family, not just to portray the idea. We push harder because of that. I preach being a family-oriented team. We’re all brothers. I stress that.”
Hall said he believes the team’s unique practice area, though a hindrance at face-value, can also be a benefit.
Currently, the team must travel to the gym behind Louisa True Value for practices. It’s a rickety, stuffy and cramped workplace that seems to force brotherhood out of a united fear of claustrophobia as much as anything else.
To read the entire story, see the Nov. 21 edition of The Central Virginian.