Miami-Dade High Schools

Columbus wrestling coach Husk extends run of state tournaments

Columbus’ Jim Husk has been a head wrestling coach at every state tournament in Florida since the FHSAA sanctioned the sport in 1965 — and he’s still going strong.

How else to describe a seven-time state-championship coach who in December became a newlywed at age 72?

And how else to describe a man who is in his sixth decade as a head coach and still gets on the mat to teach wrestling moves?

Columbus assistant coach Ernie Peoples, who first met Husk in 1976 when he was a junior high wrestler at Cutler Ridge, said his boss has mellowed a bit but is still tough.

“He was meaner back then, but you can’t help but respect him,” said Peoples, 51, who figures to be with Husk at this year’s state tournament, Feb. 14 in Lakeland. “The proof was there. In three years under him [at Southridge], we won two state titles and came in second.

“We worked hard. We’d roll around for two hours, do calisthenics, and then he’d say: ‘OK, now let’s start practice.’ ”

Born in Wheeling, W.Va., Husk’s life changed forever when his father, an Air Force fighter pilot who saw combat in the South Pacific during World War II, and his mother, a factory worker, divorced.

Husk was 8, and his father, Herschel, was never involved in his life after that.

A talented athlete, Husk got much of the male guidance he needed from his football, wrestling, baseball and track coaches while growing up as a Steelers fan in Waynesburg, Pa.

“My mom was one of the toughest women in the world,” Husk said of Helen, who died eight years ago at age 88. “I miss her a great deal.”

Husk wrestled as a 165-pounder, going undefeated as a senior before losing in the Pennsylvania state final.

But his first love was football, and he landed a scholarship to play halfback at Xavier University.

After graduating in 1964 with a degree in education, Husk landed a job as a teacher and assistant football coach at Miami’s Archbishop Curley. The annual pay was $4,500.

One day, Husk happened by wrestling practice, where he noticed that the coach — who was not well-versed in the sport — was using a book to help him teach the kids.

Husk asked him if he needed help, and his career as a wrestling coach was born on the spot.

He took over the team that season when the other coach was transferred, and he quickly transformed the Curley program.

“I kept the kids at our first practice for six hours,” Husk said. “The principal had to come in and tell me to let them go home.”

Husk’s drill-sergeant ways worked as Curley finished third at state out of 38 schools that first year.

“I was hooked after that,” said Husk, who was the Miami News Coach of the Year that season as a 22-year-old.

Husk stayed at Curley for four years and was at Southwest for eight before taking over in 1976 at a brand new school in Southridge.

It was at Southridge where Husk became a legend, winning all seven of his state titles.

Still, he was forced to leave the school in 2004 as part of the Deferred Retirement Option Program.

Columbus administrators quickly contacted Husk and built him two wrestling rooms. Last season, Columbus finished fourth at state and produced its first individual state champion, Nick Wethy, in 20 years.

Husk said he has no plans to retire.

“I don’t fish, and I don’t golf,” said Husk, who, according to Wrestling USA Magazine, has the national record with 175 tournament titles. “I try not to think about [retiring]. I’m still having a good time.”

Husk said he had “a little heart problem” last year but says his health is “pretty good.”

He was named to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000 and the FHSAA Hall of Fame in 2002.

On a personal level, though, he is known for his raspy voice — think actor Nick Nolte, and you won’t be far off.

Before visitors even enter Columbus’ wrestling room, they can hear the constant barrage of whistles … and Husk.

Damian Penichet, a senior 145-pounder who recently won a GMAC title for Columbus, said he and his teammates respect Husk but admitted that the subject of their coach’s voice is a source of laughter.

“He has a pretty big temper,” Penichet said. “We were at practice one day, and he was trying to show us a move, and he ripped his pants. He got so mad. He was just yelling nonsense — ahhhhh — he wasn’t even yelling words.”

Peoples, meanwhile, calls Husk “the Godfather” of Florida wrestling.

“He’s not just my friend, he’s like my dad,” Peoples said. “I still can’t bring myself to call him Jim. To me, that’s Coach Husk.”