Jason Hughes trusts in an acronym: ABC, which stands for “Always Be Closing.”
He not only uses the motto while running his own business, a talent acquisition firm, but also while recruiting for and building Maryville wrestling programs. The Maryville alum and former wrestler started the middle school wrestling team and made it into a winner using that philosophy.
Hughes recently closed on his latest vision: a girls wrestling team at Maryville High School. After Hughes, who will coach the team, continually pushed for it, the girls team is now a reality and will compete for the first time this season.
“I’ve been probably the biggest pusher (for a girls program),” Hughes said. “I would say some of the athletic administration was probably getting a little annoyed at it, but I felt pretty strong about doing this.”
And Hughes knows Maryville well. The 44-year-old graduated from MHS, where he both wrestled and played football in 1996 before wrestling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He finished his education at Middle Tennessee State University.
He helped out with the high school team over the years and was offered the chance to start the middle school program, a job he didn’t see himself staying in for long. The team struggled in his first season.
“At Maryville, we’re not used to losing at anything,” Hughes said.
But his middle school program went from last in its conference, to third place, to winning the conference, to winning the region and placing Top 5 in the state, Hughes said.
Along the way, he envisioned someday starting a high school girls wrestling team. The inspiration came from his own daughter and the opportunities he wanted her to have.
“I’ve got a second grader at John Sevier Elementary,” Hughes said. “Even if she wrestles or not, I wanted her to have the availability to at least be on the team.”
Maryville has girls wrestling programs for kindergarten through eighth grade, but since the high school didn’t have a team, Hughes pushed for one. He then channeled his “ABC” motto once it became official.
“Once we got the greenlight from Coach (Landon) Harris, I’ve just been recruiting girls every day,” Hughes said.
Harris, Maryville’s athletic director, said talks regarding the possibility of a girls wrestling team began in late April, and the program officially was added in July. Just as Hughes’ inspiration to start the team came from his daughter, Harris’ came from his son, who wrestled for Maryville from 2016-19.
“Ever since seeing girls wrestle when my son participated, I have thought MHS should have a girls team,” Harris said. “I think the sport teaches so many life skills from personal responsibility, individual effort, but also being part of a team.
“I am happy that I was put in a position to help make it a reality. I could say that it was my first action when I took over as AD.”
Hughes said he currently has 10 female wrestlers, but expects to up that number significantly once other girls sports at the school end their seasons. The team is conducting strength training three days a week, at 6:30 a.m. before school, and preseason practice goes two days a week.
“Every girls program that we’ve had at Maryville has been awesome,” Hughes said. “I know the type of student-athletes we have at Maryville. So this was always something I felt like we could build this thing from scratch, win and win quick. And I think we’re going to do that.”
The first official event for Maryville wrestling’s girls and boys is the KWOA Preseason Tourney on Nov. 6 at Halls High School.
“I’m excited about it,” Hughes said. “We have one tournament in North Carolina. We’ve got another big one at Science Hill High School (in Johnson City). The goal is to get to the state duals and the state individual tournaments at the end of the year, get some girls on the medal stand. I think we can do it this year.”
Whatever happens this season, though, Hughes is grateful for his program’s situation and the help he’s received, as Maryville’s female student-athletes now have a chance to take the mat.
“Our conference, the Smoky Mountain Wrestling Conference, is pretty deep,” Hughes said. “We have good coaches there. Our program, Heritage, Alcoa, William Blount, we’ve had some good wrestlers come out of here. And we took that over quick. I expect the same here with the girls.
“The support I’m getting from the high school, I can’t ask for anything more. Without our other women’s programs and coaches, we wouldn’t be here, and I’m thankful for that for sure.”