GAINESVILLE — The state of the Gainesville wrestling program has been on the mind of Red Elephants’ Athletic Director Adam Lindsey almost from the moment he took over the position not even two years ago.
“Coming from Jackson County, where wrestling is king all over the county, I have been bothered about our program and why there hasn’t been an emphasis on building a top-notch program over the years,” he said. “We haven’t even been able to field a complete team. That just is not acceptable. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that now.”
Lindsey announced Thursday that he had hired former Pebblebrook and Kennesaw Mountain wrestling coach Roberto Rivera to take over the Gainesville program. Rivera becomes the third coach in as many seasons for the Red Elephants.
“We just haven’t been able to find stability at the top but I think Coach Rivera is the right guy to get the program going,” Lindsey said. “I want experts in all our coaching positions to help the kids be able to reach their goals and potential. Coach Rivera is very well respected in the wrestling community.”
However, Rivera has not coached at the high school level since leaving Kennesaw Mountain in 2016 to become an administrator at first Marietta High School and then this past year at North Paulding High School, where he served as both Assistant Principal and Athletic Director.
“I was looking for a place where there was one (high) school in the system where maybe I could be an administrator and still be able to coach,” Rivera said by phone from his Dallas, Georgia residence. “We were able to make that work out.
“I’m very excited about it. This was a great opportunity that opened up and I feel like this is a program that could be, and should be, an elite one in the state.”
Rivera has compiled a 275-94 dual match record in his nearly 20 years as a head coach, and also helped produce 92 state qualifiers, 13 state finalists, and 10 state champions. He spent four seasons at Pebblebrook, rebuilding a dormant program that went 12 years without a wrestling team. He then spent 10 years at Kennesaw Mountain, guiding the Mustangs to three top four finishes at the State Duals.
And the Red Elephants aren’t without talent as nearly a half-dozen wrestlers qualified for the 2019 Traditional state meet back in February.
“We had a very young team but I think there is some talent to work with,” Lindsey said. “Hopefully (Coach Rivera) will be able to get over here soon and start building this thing the way we think it could be.”
However, Rivera was quick to temper some of the immediate excitement. He knows it will be a work-in-progress.
“I told them to give me three years and we’ll have a program that will be able to compete with anyone,” Rivera said. “We have to get a youth program started with quality coaches and start getting the kids interested in the sport from an early age. The top programs like Jefferson, Commerce, North Hall all have big youth programs. That is the key to building a successful program.
“It’s going to take some time but I feel like Gainesville has more than enough talent and resources that we can get the program on the map. I’m ready to get going.”