Veteran head coach John White stepped down to focus on coaching the girls team, which celebrated its inaugural season in 2018-19.
After 260 dual wins, eight district championships and 14 seasons, the Pirates’ John White is stepping down as head coach of Matanzas’ boys wrestling team to focus on the girls team, which recently celebrated its inaugural season.
White announced he was stepping down at Matanzas’ end-of-the-year wrestling banquet on Wednesday, April 24. In his place enters T.J. Gillin, who has served as an assistant coach for the Pirates the last four years.
“We were tough four years ago but not at the level that we are now,” White said. “T.J. has been instrumental in helping develop this team. I hope he destroys any record I have. That would make me proud.”
White, who is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Wrestling Advisory Committee, has been focusing on getting girls wrestling sanctioned by the FHSAA, a process that is about a year away from being completed. With the permission of Matanzas Athletics Director Zach Rigney, White created the Pirates’ first-ever girls wrestling team this past season.
He wasn’t sure how the project would work out, but after the first practice, he “knew it was going to be big.” Fifteen girls joined the team, and the rest was history. The Pirates ended up placing fourth in the state.
“We wanted to be the front-runners,” White said of his creation of the girls team. “It’s a physical sport, and there’s not a whole lot of contact sports for girls out there. It’s a great opportunity for them to get out there on the mat and be physical with each other. Girls are just as tough, if not tougher than, boys. I’m excited about giving them this opportunity.”
There is some sadness about handing over the boys team, however. It was a program that he, with the help of several dedicated assistants, built from the ground up.
But he believes he’s leaving the program in good hands.
“I knew T.J. was ready,” White said. “I just needed to make sure he knew he was ready.”
The Pirates are coming off of their greatest season in program history: They became the first Flagler County team to ever qualify for the state duals tournament, they beat rival Flagler Palm Coast for the first time in a decade, they won the district and finished second at regionals, and they qualified nine wrestlers for the state tournament, where they had three place.
But there will be no slowing down under the Pirates’ new 30-year-old head coach.
“We finally developed a system, and it’s working,” Gillin said. “We set high goals and high expectations. We want that state trophy, and that’s not going to change.”
Gillin’s experience in wrestling goes all the way back to the third grade. He wrestled at FPC before graduating in 2007, and he continued to wrestle when he enrolled at the University of Central Florida, where he graduated in 2011.
He wasn’t ready to be a head coach straight out of college, however. He wasn’t ready to manage a group of kids and “all the stuff that comes with that.” He became an assistant at FPC, where he stayed for four years before moving on to Matanzas to prove himself. He continued his wrestling education, soaking up knowledge under White.
“He’s been a great mentor and I’ve learned a lot from him,” Gillin said. “I feel like I’m ready now. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time.”
Although the Pirates graduate five state qualifiers this year, they still have two state placers coming back in rising seniors Shaun Culbreth and Quenteen Robinson. Gillin believes next year’s team will be even stronger.
“I think we’re going to surprise some people,” he said.