By JEREMY HINES
The Franklin Central wrestling team needed more than a coach. They needed someone to share the enormous burden of grief, someone to cry to, and someone to help them cope with pain no high school kid should ever have to endure. As it turned out, coach Kevin Moore needed the team just as much as they needed him.
“It’s almost like I was meant to come here,” Moore said.
This is Moore’s fifth season at the helm of the Flashes. There have been five deaths in the wrestling family during that span – a statistic that nobody wants to keep.
“We have literally lost a person every year I’ve been here,” Moore said.
Senior Johnny Weisheit’s mother was murdered. Sophomore Gauge Clark’s sister was murdered. Former semistate qualifier Charlie Harp committed suicide in 2018 and just this November senior Ayden Harper died. Harper was one of the team captains and always led the warmups before matches.
While Moore has tried to be there for the wrestlers during their grieving, he faced tragedy of his own. His wife, Mariah, was hit and killed by an impaired driver.
“If it wasn’t for this community, I would have left a long time ago,” Moore said. “I’ve never seen people come together like they have here. When my wife passed, I didn’t have to do laundry, cook, or even pay for the funeral. The community did that for me. It was the same with Ayden – they paid for his funeral as well. Everyone is checking in on me all the time – and I know people are checking in with Ayden’s family and the other guys on this team as well.”
In the midst of tragedy, the team has found solace on the wrestling mat. It’s their escape from reality, if only for a few hours a day.
“Wrestling is tough,” Moore said. “It’s hard. It’s painful. But it gives you something you can control. There are a lot of things happening to these guys that they can’t control – but they can control what happens on the mat. Losing these people that we have lost, it completely sucks. But you can’t live life with those emotions. You have to find a way to move on.”
Each wrestler on the Franklin Central roster is dealing with pain. The tragic journey has made them closer than brothers.
“My teammates, they are my brothers,” junior Aataeveon Jordan said. “We aren’t blood, but we are. We have each other’s back. You mess with one of us, the rest of the lineup has their back even if we’re in the wrong.”
And, the pillar of the team, is coach Moore. He’s their rock – a responsibility he believes is one he must shoulder.
“There are certain people that are meant to handle these types of situations,” Moore said. “There are people that are built for it. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my wife and my kids lost their mother. In an unfortunate circumstance you have to lead by example. A lot of these young men don’t know that it’s OK to cry. They don’t’ know it’s OK to show that they are hurt. It’s OK to show emotion.
“I would never want to say I’m like a father-figure – but we just have a different kind of bond going through all of this. To be effective as a coach, at times I have to be like their dad and at times I have to be like an older brother.
When Mariah was in the hospital, the team was there with the coach almost daily. He had been their rock through their turmoil and then it was their turn to be his.
“They really helped me get through it,” Moore said.
The Flashes are hoping to turn their pain into success on the mat. The goal is to win the school’s first wrestling sectional since 1995. For some of the wrestlers, like Jordan, the individual goal is a state title.
“My goal is to get that blue ring,” he said. “That blue ring has been calling my name.”
Jordan is one of three ranked wrestlers on the Franklin Central team. Jordan is ranked No. 15 at 195 pounds. Last season he placed 8th at 220. Clark is currently ranked No. 17 at 106 pounds and senior Cayden Shelton is No. 17 at 138.
“We also have Ashton Brandon, who didn’t have a chance to finish the season last year, but I think he will surprise a lot of people,” Moore said. “He’s our 132-pound senior. He’s a hands-on, in your face, gritty wrestler. He puts his hands on you for six minutes and he doesn’t wear down. He’s also a big-time leader.”
Moore has helped build the Franklin Central program from when he started.
“There were 13 kids in the room when I started,” he said. “I spent all pre-season recruiting, and that’s what we got. Now we have a middle school room of about 40-50 kids and the high school team started out with about 70. I’m impressed with the culture shift I have seen. I think what these kids have gone through, and persevered is unique and amazing.”
The Flashes only were able to send a few wrestlers to the Marion County tournament because of illness. But, when the team is at full strength, Moore has high hopes. Win or lose, he’s in their corner and they are in his. They’ve been in the valley for a while, and now they are ready to climb out.
“Coach Moore has really been our shoulder to cry on, and we are his,” Jordan said. “I think the one thing we can all take from this is that, on this team, ain’t nobody ever alone. We all have each other.”