Bryant and Spataro are starting to see results of the program's hard work.
ST. PETERSBURG - The signs of Edwin Bryant and Nick Spataro's presence at Dixie Hollins are unmistakable.
The wrestling room has fresh paint. The mats have been gutted and renovated. There is a dehumidifier to pump the sweat out of the facility and eliminate potential diseases such as ringworm.
But nowhere has the two coaches' influence been greater than with the students who make up the team. Both have changed the Rebels' fortunes. Dixie Hollins finished the regular season with a 10-4 dual-meet record and placed fourth in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference tournament two weeks ago. It was the school's best showing in more than a decade.
With two weeks to prepare for the Class 2A, District 10 tourney, the Rebels have designs on a strong showing.
"Everything seems to be coming into place," said Bryant, the head coach. "I wanted to build a program here and take it back to where it was."
A former all-county offensive lineman and wrestler with the Rebels from 1992-94, Bryant returned to his alma mater two years later to be an assistant with both programs.
He took over the wrestling squad midway through 2001-02 from then coach Sonny Blackwelder. Bryant ended his first season with eight athletes combined for junior varsity and varsity.
He vowed a return to the glory days when the Rebels were crowned conference champions in 1988 and were among the area's top teams. Touching up a smudged powerhouse, Bryant had to start somewhere. So he enlisted the services of Spataro, a former Osceola standout who had coached at his alma mater. Spataro joined the staff last season and started polishing up the facilities to entice students to join.
"The wrestling room was a mess," Spataro said. "The padding was falling off the walls. There were mats just rolled up on the side. It was something that needed to be taken care of for a long time."
Still, there was more work to do to bring in wrestlers. Spataro sent out flyers and combed the hallways for recruits.
It worked. There were 98 students cramped into the tiny wrestling room the first day of practice in November. Bryant has two full junior varsity lineups and a full varsity squad. There are so many wrestlers that there are two practice sessions.
"I was shocked to see that many guys out for wrestling," said 189-pound senior Robert Hartline. "But I also was glad to see it. Before, we had to really be self-motivated because we didn't have that many wrestlers. Now we just feed off each other and work to get better."
Though the numbers dropped from 98 to 49 since the season started, Bryant expects to have many of those members back the next couple of years. Besides Hartline, there is just one other senior, Minio Torres (130).
"It's been hard the past couple of years," said Torres, the only Rebel to qualify for the state tournament the past two seasons. "But I'm glad I decided to stick it out. I feel like I helped build a stronger program."