In the Corner with Coach Atwood: Coaching Legends Series-Jerry Messick
This article will be written with a great deal of nostalgia, because Jerry Messick is someone I met and know from wrestling going way back into the early 1980s. My true entry into the sport of wrestling happened during the 1983-84 school year while I attended Anderson High School. Coach Messick was the wrestling coach at Hill High School, Anderson’s archrival.
In 1983-84, the Hill High wrestling team was the best team in the 9th/10th grades WSFCS “city/county” Athletic League (not an official name just something I made up). In case you’re wondering, during this time, WSFCS operated on a 2-year high school model that essentially created a junior varsity league of 8 schools. Students would attend one school for grades 9/10 then transfer to a “senior” high school for their final 2 years. It was a crazy system and one that probably held back a lot of students athletically.
At the time, in the Winston-Salem Journal, this 9th/10th grade “league” literally got more press coverage than the senior high schools, or so it seemed anyway. But Jerry was Hill’s coach (along with Doug Gerringer) and his team that year was highly talented. I’ll discuss this season further later, but before doing that let me introduce you to Coach Messick.
Jerry is a Winston-Salem boy. He graduated from North Forsyth HS in 1966. At the time, North was a 3-year school and was a member of the 4A classification with somewhere around 1600 students.
While at North, Jerry was a member of the wrestling team his junior and senior seasons. He was conference champion his junior season before sustaining a season ending injury. His senior season he repeated as conference champion and placed 2nd in the sectionals. He’d make it to the 3rd round of the state tournament before being eliminated. Jerry also played football and was co-captain during his senior season.
After graduating, Jerry enrolled at Surry Community College in the fall of 1966, but in January 1967 he left for basic training to Ft. Benning, Georgia after deciding to enlist in the US Army Reserves (he served 6 years in the Reserves). After completing his military training Jerry returned to Surry CC and would finish up a year later.
In 1968, Jerry enrolled at Appalachian State and would graduate in 1970 earning a bachelor’s degree with endorsements to teach Health, Physical Education, and Biology.
After graduating from ASU (1970-71 school year), Jerry was hired by Spaulding HS in Lamar, South Carolina to teach PE and Science. He’d also serve as an assistant football coach, and get this, he was also the head basketball coach. Yes, you read that correctly. Jerry was a basketball coach and in his short tenure as a basketball coach the team put an incredible run together winning the conference, sectional, and ultimately finishing 4th in the state of South Carolina.
After one year in South Carolina Jerry returned to Winston-Salem after being hired at Carver HS where he’d teach and continue to coach football and basketball. This was the 1971-72 school year, and it would be the only year he’d work at Carver.
The next school year he’d move to Hill to teach Biology and be the head wrestling coach. From 1972-84 Jerry would continue to teach science and serve as the head wrestling coach at Hill. He would also coach some other sports such as football, cross country and softball. His wrestling team would win the city/county wrestling championship in 1980, 1981, and 1984, which was the last year of the 9th/10th grade/2 years high school assignment system the WSFCS offered.
In 1984, as part of the restructuring of the high school system in WSFCS, Hill became a middle school, so Jerry moved to Parkland HS to continue his teaching and coaching career. From 1984-91, He would teach science classes and serve as the head wrestling coach for Parkland. During this time, Parkland had some great teams and individual wrestlers with the highlight being the team finishing 3rd in the state tournament in 1989. Jerry would have 38 state tournament qualifiers during his coaching tenure at Parkland.
Unbeknownst to most people, at least me anyway, was Jerry’s decision to attend school to get his administration credentials. In 1990, Jerry received his Master’s in School Administration from Gardner-Webb University, so it was just a matter of time before he would move into administration after the stellar teaching and coaching career he’d had up until that point.
The school that came calling for his administrative services is a familiar name, Hill, but rather than being known as Hill HS it was now called Hill Middle School. Jerry would serve Hill Middle School as Assistant Principal from 1993-98. In 1998, he would move to Meadowlark Middle School, which was their grand opening, and he remained there until 2001, which is the year Jerry initially retired.
Retirement for administrators in education is a relative concept though, and not long after retiring Jerry was back in a school hallway serving as an interim Assistant Principal. He’d serve Clemmons MS, Wiley MS, and Jefferson MS on an interim basis and would remain at Jefferson on a half-time basis from 2003-08. His final year at Jefferson Jerry served as the interim Principal. In 2008 Jerry completely retired from education.
Since retirement Jerry has been spending most of his time with his wife, Patricia. They have been married for 54 years and have a daughter, Allison. Patricia was a School Board Member in Stokes County for 10 years, and Allison is the Media Coordinator at Mount Olive Elementary School in King. She has two sons, Jerry and Patricia’s grandsons, Alex (22) and William (19).
Jerry has remained busy and involved by serving on the Stokes County Planning Board the last 4 years. He also enjoys traveling having traveled to Europe twice with an upcoming trip planned to Greece next year. He and his wife attend Woodland Baptist Church for both services on Sunday as well as the Wednesday night service. He’s a “turner” of wood, bowls, vases, platters and pens. Does some painting, but claims he isn’t very good at it. He pulls for App State, Wake Forest, and Carolina while also holding out hope for the Panthers. Most of all though, he really pulls for the Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team.
In writing this article it hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized how long Jerry served the Southside community in Forsyth County. The Southside community is a rough and tough place. Hill HS and Anderson HS had a lot of problems back then. Parkland had a lot of problems as well. Jerry endured all of that for 26 years and remained steadfast in his commitment and promise to educate the youth of Southside. I’m floored by the realization of how long he did it. Even more so, I’m thankful he did it, because he educated, trained, and instilled the proper values of society into many of the people I grew up with or around all of whom in some way shape, fashion, or form, I’ve rubbed shoulders with.
Going back to 1984, the city/county wrestling tournament was hosted by Carver HS. This was the first wrestling tournament I had ever attended or participated in. Personally, I won my first match then got eliminated by the eventual champion, but the single elimination tournament was a much-ballyhooed event. It was big time for the kids who wrestled in it. I remember the Carver gym being packed. There was a close team race between Hill, Carver, and Atkins. I think Anderson finished 4th. We’d just had a kid transfer from Hill who had been their starting heavyweight. Robert made the tournament finals, and his opponent was from Hill, Kennard Martin, who bumped all the way up to heavyweight from 185. I remember seeing Kennard drinking water in the weigh-in area to ensure he weighed enough to wrestle heavyweight. The story, as I remember it, was if Kennard won at heavyweight Hill would win the team championship. Otherwise, it was either Carver or Atkins. Kennard, against his former teammate who weighed at least 50lbs more than him, edged out the win by a couple points to secure the team title for Hill.
The following school year, I was briefly enrolled at Parkland before transferring to RJ Reynolds. The first ever conversation I had with Coach Messick was about three people. Charles Powers, David Hill and Robert (the heavyweight who transferred from Hill to Anderson). Coach Messick told me that although he was glad it happened, he could never understand how David beat Charles the two times they wrestled that season. Charles would drop one weight for the city/county tournament and win the championship while David won it at his weight. When I asked him about that heavyweight finals match Coach Messick said that match should have never happened because Robert was ineligible to participate. Apparently, the transcript and other paperwork didn’t make it to Anderson in time for evaluation and the school system allowed Robert to wrestle since the tournament was imminent. I didn’t know what any of that meant at the time because I was just some unknowing high school kid.
One last thing about Coach Messick. Included in the information I got from him for this article was the following comment he included “I never had many great achievements such as state championships, but I sure loved working with my kids.” Everybody, that comment right there is the truest exhibit in its most altruist form of what the true heart and desire of the typical teacher/coach/administrator serving in the schools educating our young people operates with. I’m convinced, based on personal experience as a student and as a teacher/coach that teacher/coaches make the most profound difference in the lives of the young people they encounter.
Jerry Messick embodied that for 38 years.
I reached out to a few people to provide a comment about Coach Messick. Here are their responses:
Doug Gerringer (Retired Principal/wrestling coach who worked with Jerry for many years)
“I have a couple of thoughts about Jerry. First, he is like a brother to me. And looking back on it, other than my Dad, he has probably been the most influential person in my life. I remember one evening we went running at the King Community Center when it was 18 degrees outside. The wind was blowing so hard that some sheets on the clothesline at a house next to the center were completely horizontal and not flapping because they were frozen solid. I had a beard and mustache at the time and the ice from my breath didn't thaw out until I got home and stood in front of my wood stove. That's the kind of crazy stuff we did. Good times!”
Keith Shields (Former Parkland Head Wrestling Coach and Booker for the Piedmont Baseball Officials)
“Jerry was my first wrestling coach (along with Doug Gerringer). Those two were the best and big influences on my life. Coach Messick has done so much for so many kids. One of my first coaching “experiences” was Coach Messick letting me sit in the corner with him during the city/county tournament my sophomore year. Coach Gerringer had to take care of his sick spouse, so Coach Messick let me help him. I knew then that I loved to coach. It is an honor to welcome him to the club! I cannot believe that I am worthy of being on the same list as him! Love ya Coach!”
Tim Pittman (Former Parkland wrestler and current Gibbs HS (TN) Head Wrestling Coach)
“Coach Messick was the total package as a came for coaches! He was tough, caring and always had a sense of belief and pride in his athletes. Which in turn made his athletes willing to do whatever needed to be done. No one ever wanted to let him down. He is why I decided to be a coach.”
Eddie Gist (Former Parkland Wrestler)
“Mr. Messick is a caring man. He is a big part of the success that I have had in my life. He is the kind of man that believes in people and gave us a chance to be our best selves. When I was wrestling for him, he would pick me up and take me home after wrestling practice to Happy Hill Gardens. My family could not get me to school nor could the school bus. He went out of his way to help me be the best person I could be. When ASU was looking at me for wrestling he took the day off from teaching, so I could go up and meet with the wrestling coach. He believed in me and my future that much. I would have never made it to college if he hadn't taken the time to invest in my future. We have remained friends and stay in touch. I call him my Pop, and his wife my Mama, while is daughter is my sister. The Messicks’ have done these types of things for so many of his wrestlers because he cares. Going above and beyond to help others is second nature to them.”
An NC coaching legend indeed. We thank Jerry for the work he provided throughout his career and for his contributions to the sport we all love.