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Former Dawson coach inducted to National Wrestling Hall of Fame
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The inductees for the 2018 Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame are Front (L-R): Stacey L. Davis, Sr., Pat McCance, Denis Tallini, Don St. James; Back: Jerry Goldstein, William Howington and Bruce Towson. - photo by For the Dawson County News

The Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame recently celebrated their class of 2018 inductees and a former Dawson County coach was one of them.

William Howington received a letter in January letting him know that he would be inducted into the National Hall of Fame, and on May 6 the Georgia Chapter of the NWHOF gathered together at the Sonesta Hotel in Gwinnett County to celebrate and induct the state’s seven newest inductees.

Howington has been a prominent name in the wrestling scene in north Georgia since the 1970s when he was a star athlete at Jefferson High School. He was a varsity letterman in football, track, and his true passion: wrestling.

While in college at the University of Georgia, Howington began officiating and continues to be a referee 45 years later.

“The fact that it’s individual, that an ordinary athlete can work hard and learn the sport and become good at it,” said Howington about his favorite part about wrestling. “You don’t have to worry about other people, just yourself out there.”

Howington has made a name for himself in many schools around north Georgia for his excellence in coaching. He founded the wrestling program at Winder-Barrow High School in 1979 and played an instrumental part in maintaining the junior high program at his alma mater. He mentored and coached Jefferson’s present wrestling coach, Doug Thurmond, who himself is a Hall of Famer and multiple state champion.

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William Howington displayed wrestling memorabilia from his 45 year career at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet at the Sonesta Hotel in Gwinnett County May 6. - photo by For the Dawson County News

In 1984 Howington found himself coaching the wrestlers at Dawson County High School and took them to the state championship in 1987.

But wrestling looked very different in Dawson County 30 years ago. When the high school was located at the modern day junior high, there was nowhere for the wrestling team to practice inside the small gym.

“We practiced in the lunchroom,” said Howington. “We had to move the tables and then pull the mat out, make sure there wasn’t any peas or corn inside the mat.”

Every day after school the team would meet in the lunchroom, move the tables and pull out and mop the mat before Howington had even left his last class of the day.

“That’s what I liked about them. The kids were always dedicated, hardworking and self-sufficient,” said Howington.

They wasted no time running or weight training. All practice time was used on the mat where Howington would often run situational drills to teach his wrestlers how to maneuver certain scenarios.

“I wouldn’t necessarily show them exactly how to do it,” said Howington. “I’d give them the broad definition of what they were supposed to be doing and they figured out the best way on their own.”

When the time came for the state championship in 1987, Howington knew he had a great group of kids that would fight for the win, but with an all-star suffering from an injury and unable to compete he worried the team wouldn’t be able to overcome.

 “He went off the mat and hit his elbow on the gym floor and separated his elbow. That worried me a little bit but the rest of them came through.”

The hard work and determination of the players paid off, earning them the GHSA wrestling championship, the first state title in any sport in Dawson County history.

The team returned to state in 1988 and was runner-up. For his impressive leadership of the Tiger wrestlers, Howington was selected as the Class A Wrestling Coach of the Year for both 1987 and 1988.

“Those were some good times. I looked forward to practice and meets,” said Howington about his time in Dawson County.

He retired as a wrestling coach in 1988 and from teaching in 2004.

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William Howington and his family pose for a photo after he was inducted into the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame at the Sonesta Hotel in Gwinnett County May 6. - photo by For the Dawson County News

But he is far from being done with the sport as Tiger wrestlers to this day see Howington in the stands or on the mat.

Howington’s nephew, Kelton LeBaron, has another year of high school wrestling left and Howington is sure to be there to cheer him on. This last wrestling season, Howington attended many local matches as well as regional and state to cheer on the Tigers.

“It’s kind of tough on me sitting there in the stands watching them and wondering what it’d be like to coach now a days,” said Howington.

As for his plans to slow down, Howington said he will be a referee as long as he can.

“I’m going to keep that up as long as I can get up off the mat,” said Howington. “I can get down alright. It’s getting up that’s the hard part.”

Howington, along with Georgia’s six other inductees, will have his name displayed on a plaque at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Oklahoma.