HAWKINS, Texas — It’s a new era at Jarvis Christian. Earlier this year, the institution celebrated it’s 110th anniversary by dropping college from its name, officially becoming a university and joining elite company in HBCU sports.
In the spring, Jarvis announced it would add wrestling to its list of athletic programs, becoming just the fourth institution out of the 107 HBCUs to acknowledge the sport, led by freshman Cedric Abney.
“It feels surreal," Abney said. "Sometimes you just dream of being about making history and being a part of history, so you know, to leave a legacy and to do it on HBCU level, that's where I want to be.”
While Jarvis joins extremely rare company for men’s wrestling, on the women’s side, the university is in a league of its own. By adding women's wrestling, Jarvis became the one and only HBCU in the nation to house an active women’s wrestling team, eventually choosing Lance Brown as head coach.
Brown coached under California Hall of Fame Wrestling Coach Kent Olson, where he was a part of three conference championships, a regional championship and a team finish at 3rd place in the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship.
“The goal is to hopefully get other HBCUs to follow suit, to say 'hey, we need to have a team, we have men's teams, but let's let's get the women involved,'" Brown said. "Because women's overall is the fastest growing sport in the country, women's wrestling.”
In their first meet this season, JCU women's wrestling team had all three wrestlers place, including a third-place finish from Natalie Bryant, becoming the first HBCU in women's wrestling history to compete in tournaments and duals.
“It's so nice to be part of history," Bryant said. "It's so nice to like, know that I'm part of like, the beginning of it all."
To build a program from the ground up, you have to start from foundation. The program’s future practice facility is still an empty classroom, causing the team to travel each and every week to practice on the back court of the Gladewater High school gym.
“It's all scratch," Bryant said. "We only have our Coach Brown, we only have us and we all are trying our best to build this family and build this group. We want this sport to rise, we want everybody to rise with this sport. And we're hoping to find different practice partners so that we can help push them to their limits and help them push us to our limits so that we can just continuously get better and get better.”
Jarvis wrestling currently has no assistant coaches, no equipment managers, no recruitment help. All of these athletes, all are in it for the love of wrestling.
“You bleed together, you take bruises and take beatings, wins and losses," Coach Brown expressed. "But at the end of the night, everybody's riding home on the same bus for 10 hours. And you're laughing and you're having a good time at the end, everybody's just you're just having fun.”
Fun with its share of pain, growing pains of starting something new. An uphill battle these Bulldogs are ready for, to usher in a new wave in HBCU sports.
“That’s what it’s all about," Abney said. "Creating new waves around the world if we can because wrestling is like the oldest sport, but it's still growing. You got your football, your basketball, but football and basketball is already set in stone. But with wrestling you know, we still have places that we ain't at yet. We still have towns to hit, so we still a growing sport, even though it's the oldest.”
JCU will join the Sooner Athletic Conference for wrestling since the Red River Athletic Conference does not sponsor the sport.