Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Chris Cicora has been the head coach of the Brookwood wrestling team for five years.
Chris Cicora, 32, is in his eighth season at Brookwood and seventh as the Broncos' head wrestling coach.
Cicora is a native of New York, but grew up in East Tennesseee where he attended Davy Crockett High School and graduated in 1997. Cicora wrestled at Carson-Newman where he earned his degree in physical education and exercise science.
In this latest installment of "Getting To Know ... ," Cicora talks to staff writer Brandon Brigman about the Brookwood wrestling program, his active lifestyle and how he met his wife Leah.
BB: Brookwood placed second at the county tournament last month. What do you feel like this team can do the rest of the season?
CC: I think we didn't wrestle to our full potential at county. I'm looking for them to continue to get better from week to week and finish the season the best we can. I think our kids are underestimated throughout the state. Nobody has shown us any respect until recently in the rankings, which is fine with me. I'm OK with that. It takes the pressure off us, but I'd also like to have our kids and program recognized for their accomplishments. I think we've proven that you better watch out for us.
BB: You were a state runner-up in wrestling in high school. What do you remember about that match?
CC: It went by too fast. I wish I had it back.
BB: Was it a quick pin on you?
CC: No, I actually got teched in the state finals by the returning two-time runner-up. He was hungry for a state championship and I was getting in there for the first time and he took it to me. It was a great experience and it put me where I am at in the sport today. It's one of those things that kept me involved with the sport.
BB: Do you think that loss has made you a better coach?
CC: Yeah, it motivated me to learn the sport. I think just like in education, you never stop learning. With athletics and wrestling, when you think you think you've got it all figured out there's always something there to make you learn.
BB: What kind of wrestler were you in college?
CC: I don't believe I reached my full potential. I became a better student in college. I went out there and was part of an incredible program at Carson-Newman. We were ranked top 10 in the country all four years. I had a returning All-American in my weight class for three years that transferred from Oklahoma and it took me about a month before I scored on him. It was another level. It was an all-star practice room. I learned a lot there. What I learned in that room has taught me to be a great coach. Those kids in that room were all-stars from all over the country. We had JUCO All-Americans and national champions. We had an Olympic bronze medalist in Lazaro Reinoso, who defected from the Cuban national team. He was on our team as a 32-year-old freshman with a bronze medal. Having a guy like that in your room, it was amazing.
BB: There's some small colleges that have picked up wrestling in recent years. Any chance we'll see a major college in Georgia have wrestling?
CC: I hope so. I think it would be great for the sport. We're losing a lot of kids to out of state. There's a lot of great wrestlers who don't get the opportunity because they don't want to leave the state and leave the HOPE scholarship behind. You don't see a lot of Georgia kids at the national level because they are done after high school. If we had a state college, D-I, D-II, that would recognize around the country would help us and keep kids in state. We have a melting pot of good coaching that have moved here, I think we need to keep our wrestlers here and build upon it.
BB: What do you like to do that's not wrestling related?
CC: Stay active. I'm a P.E. teacher, so I'm always out there messing around whether it's biking or frisbee golf, golf, I do just about anything to keep me off the couch. I just stay as active as I can.
BB: What kind of biking?
CC: Mountain biking. My wife and I go hiking, explore waterfalls, things like that. We try to vacation as much as we can.
BB: What's your favorite place to hike?
CC: Helen. I like it up there. I don't know a whole lot of trails, but we just go and have a little hiking book and go for three or four mile hikes. In the Smokey's, I've done Mount LeConte, which is 11 miles round trip or something like that.
BB: Do you call New York home or Tennessee home?
CC: I get mixed up. It depends what kind of mood I'm in. My father's family still lives in New York and my mother's family lives in East Tennessee. I don't get back to New York as much as I would like. I get back to Tennessee quite often.BB: What was it like going to a high school named after Davy Crockett?
CC: You're going to get a kick out of this. Not a whole lot of school spirit going on at Davy Crockett High School, I'll just tell you that. We were the Pioneers. Our rival was Daniel Boone, the Trailblazers, and we played in the Musket Bowl at the end of the year in the ETSU dome. The winning football team got to take home a musket. That was the only thing we got excited about. Coming from New York, that was a culture shock. I started high school in New York and we were Thomas A. Edison. I come down to Tennessee and I'm Davy Crockett Pioneers. It was rough. He had the little raccoon on his head.
BB: Did you have one of those?
CC: No, no I didn't.
BB: What was your best Christmas present you gave this year?
CC: For Christmas, we decided we were going to spend $50 on each other and take the rest of the money to remodel our bathroom. That was our plan, but we ended up spending more money on each other than we planned. That's our gift to each other, we're going to remodel our bathroom.
BB: How did you and your wife Leah meet?
CC: At the dentist office, actually. She cleaned my teeth. I don't know how I pulled that off. She was cute and were talking and we hit it off. Her boss told her to call me. She had just gotten out of a relationship a couple months before and he said I was a nice guy. She had her friend call me and I was actually in a relationship and I told her it wasn't a good time. Six months later I went back in for my cleaning, I was out of my relationship and asked her out. We went out and started dating for two and a half years and then got married. She's been the best thing that's happened to me. She's very supportive. It's hard to find a girl supportive of coaches. We make a good team.
BB: Is she always on you about brushing and flossing?
CC: Oh yeah, but not as bad you would think. I think I do it more just consciously, so she doesn't have to.
BB: You teach weight training. Can you out lift your students?
CC: I used to. (laughs) We've got some strong kids here, they work real hard for me. When I first came in I could. I don't get to lift as much as I would like to.
BB: The Brookwood wrestling program hasn't had a lot of turnover. You've been here seven years. How much longer do you see yourself coaching wrestling at Brookwood?
CC: I'm very fortunate to be here. I feel blessed. Pieces came together for me at a young age. I owe a lot of it to Banks Bitterman for recognizing me and seeing me out in the gym and seeing something in me. He knew I knew wrestling. He saw how I interacted with the kids and gave me an opportunity to come over here to Brookwood. It's a blessing. This place is amazing. The administration is very supportive, the student body is great, innovative teaching strategy all the way up and down the line. It's a place I want to be. It's a place that needs a successful wrestling program. Banks had some success. Unfortunately, he had to move on in his career. We have a lot of kids over here and we've been moving forward ever since. I have a passion for the sport and I want to have a state championship caliber team. I want to competitive in the state year in and year out. It doesn't come along very often I'm realizing that. You've got to work hard towards it.