In 2003 and 2004, glory came to Dawson County High School.
Against all odds, during the 2002-2003 season 13 Dawson County athletes won the wrestling state championship. Then they wanted more.
“The first championship wasn’t a complete surprise, but I don’t think at the time we really knew how good we were,” said Zach Martin, a member of both state championship teams. “We knew we could be a top 5 team [in the state] but a state championship?”
The atmosphere of the 2004 season was completely different, according to Martin.
In 2004, the Tigers spent the entire season ranked #1 and did it without a single 103-pound wrestler on the team, meaning they would be forfeiting every match in that weight classification all season, hurting their chances to win team championships
Not only that, but going into the ‘04 season, the Tigers would be competing without Head Coach Stuart Cunningham, who left Dawson County to coach in Habersham County.
“When you hear in sports that a coach is a ‘players coach,’ that’s Coach Cunningham,” Martin said. “He had a way about him that he didn’t have to yell at you to motivate you. If you didn’t put in 100% at practice, you felt guilty like he would be disappointed in you.”
With the cards stacked against them, none of the Tigers felt like they had a clear run back at the state championship title.
The roster for the 2003-2004 DCHS wrestling team included the following athletes:
112- Adam Kimbrell
119- Thomas Kimbrell
125- Chris Dearwent
130- Robert Bolz
135- Matt Dearwent
140- Chris Lower
145- Zach Martin
152- Noel Poisson
160- Beau Corkill
171- J B Brock
189- Andy Meyers
215- Lance Walls
275- Donald Roberts
Worked hard and expected to win
According to teammates from that time, the setbacks they faced made the Tigers even more determined to prove they could become repeat state champions.
“I would say that my twin brother, Adam and I were leaders on the team,” Thomas Kimbrell said. “We worked hard and we expected to win.”
Though the Tigers had walked away from the ’03 State Championship with trophy in hand, the Kimbrell twins both lost the individual title for their weight class. So in 2004, they wanted to prove that they were the best wrestlers in their weight class.
To win a state championship, the individual wrestlers on the team gain points in their individual matches that contribute to the team’s overall score. The Dawson County Tigers won the team state championship in 2003, but did not have wrestlers win an individual title that year.
Back then, the Tigers were still a AA team by GHSA qualifications. But Martin said that the 2004 schedule was as tough as any schedule they could have received.
“Our schedule in 03-04 was the who's who of Georgia high school wrestling,” Martin said. “Not only in AA, which we were at the time, but the top teams in every division from A-AAAAA. We wrestled 41 duals, most of which were against ranked teams.”
At many of the tournaments, the Tigers would face off against Jefferson High School, the top single-A team in the state at that time.
But by the time that the 2004 state championship rolled around, Dawson County’s biggest competition for the AA state title was the team from Morgan County.
Dawson County had 12 wrestlers qualify for the state tournament with a chance to continue earning points. Morgan County brought all 14 of its athletes.
“After the first 3 rounds of the tournament we were up big,” Martin said. “But anyone will tell you tournaments are won in the consolation rounds. The wrestlers who are out of the hunt, but that are unwilling to give up, can rack up massive points.”
Six Tigers made it to the individual finals in their weight class, with Morgan County only sending three.
However, the competition was still close enough that Dawson County didn’t have a 100% sure shot at the title.
Martin would be first to go up against the returning individual state championship in Martin’s weight class from the year prior.
“It was a close match, but I would lose,” Martin said. “It’s hard because you feel like you’re letting the entire team down.”
When Dawson County wrestler Noel Poisson fell by just one point during the only head-to-head matchup that the Tigers had against Morgan County, the Tigers spirit nearly broke, teammates said.
Heavyweight Donald Roberts was next and after what the team called the worst call in Georgia High School Sports History, he lost during a double-overtime heartbreaker.
Though Martin said there was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness after Roberts defeat, undefeated Adam Kimbrell stepped onto the mat. Even though he was 61-0 so far on the season, he lost the first round.
“For a second, it became real,” Martin said. “There was a real chance we were going to lose the 0-6.”
Thomas Kimbrell had to face the wrestler that he lost to in area championships the week before.
“Still one of my favorite memories is from the ’03 season when Thomas Kimbrell threw away his second place medal in the trash and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again next year,” Dearwent said.
And it wouldn’t happen again. The Kimbrell twins refused to let their friends down.
Both fought back to secure back-to-back state championships for the Tigers, along with avenging both of their individual losses for the title the season prior.
Adam Kimbrell ended up coming back and winning his match by seven points, securing the 112-pound individual state championship.
After a back-and-forth battle, Thomas Kimbrell came away victorious with a one-point lead on his opponent, giving him the individual state championship in the 119-pound weight classification.
“The best part of the championship run was the process,” Kimbrell said. “All of us going through the grind together, working towards the same goal, and celebrating together when we won.”
Police escorted the team on the bus ride back to Dawsonville, Kimbrell said, and the team paraded around the downtown square, hanging out of the windows and beating on the sides of the bus.
“It felt good to rag-doll the people that trash-talked us all freshman and sophomore year,” Roberts said.
After the dust settled
After the historic win, the Kimbrell twins continued their wrestling careers at the collegiate level. Adam went on to wrestle for the University of Virginia, while Thomas turned down a scholarship to wrestle for Harvard and instead went to California State University-Bakersfield.
There, Thomas Kimbrell became an NCAA Division 1 nationally ranked wrestler and a three-time Pac-10 Conference place winner.
Zach Martin continued wrestling at William Penn University and currently serves in the United States Navy as a SERE instructor.
Donald Roberts went on to play NCAA Division 2 Football at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tenn.
Sixteen years later and the wrestlers only have one request, for Dawson County to put the individual state championships won by the 2003-2004 team back up in the Dawson County High School gym.
“I do feel disheartened how little Dawson County knows about our state championships,” Dearwent said. “We were back-to-back champions and if you were to ask an athlete about that now, most wouldn't even know what you are talking about.”
Banners or no banners, the 2004 Dawson County wrestlers believe they will always be one of the best teams in DCHS history.
“The DCHS Wrestling program is the most successful sports program in Dawson County,” Dearwent said. “No other sports can compare to wrestling's achievements and titles. Our senior class remains the most dominant in all previous years Dawson has been in existence.”
The teammates credit different parents, coaches and classmates in helping them achieve their goal of back-to-back state championships.
“Craig Corkill would take pics of the matches and give them to all the parents so we would all have the memories,” Roberts said. “After many years I greatly appreciate his time and effort more.”
“Our team managers, Sarah Darby, Amber Toal and Heidi Cranford put up with too much of our crap,” Martin said. “Teenage boys who haven't eaten in a few days aren't the most pleasant people to be around.”
“A big thank you to Coach Stowers, our middle school coach, who told us that if we all stuck together, we’d be able to do something special,” Dearwent said.