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Members of an all-volunteer military don’t stop volunteering after their first swearing in. And because they keep on volunteering, the quality of the wrestling and the wrestlers at the European championships at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Germany Friday and Saturday is better than ever.

"AFNORTH is a championship-caliber team only because of the outstanding military volunteers who selflessly give of their time and expertise…," Greg Blankenship of the defending European Division III champion Lions wrote about his seven military volunteer coaches in a Tuesday e-mail. "[They] are active-duty military members who are often gone during the week or weekend TDY on flight status. They too often drop off their dirty laundry at home from TDY status and drive across Europe for a meet."

Typical of the breed is sailor William Hicks of Sigonella, who along with fellow volunteer James Buck has taken the Jaguars’ formerly moribund program to an unbeaten regular season.

A former high school wrestler in Missouri, Hicks, married and the father of two, estimates he spends 700 hours coaching between November and February.

"I’ve always been into wrestling," the electronics technician said in explaining why he spends so much time away from home.

His reward?

Well, there’s the satisfaction of helping to build something.

"When I got here four years ago," he said last week by telephone, "there were four out for wrestling. Each year it doubled. The next year, we had eight and we ended the next one with 16. This year, we had 30 come out."

And not just 30 bodies. Under the tutelage of Hicks and Buck, Sigonella wrestlers won four weight classes during last week’s Southern Sectionals and qualified 10 for the European championships. They make the Jags solid D-IV contenders.

Even better than building a winner, said Hicks, who hopes to become a teacher when he leaves the Navy, is the chance to distribute the sport’s benefits to a new generation.

Among them:

Teamwork — "Our unbeaten season came down to a whole-team effort," Hicks said. "Anybody who’s out on the mat has all of us behind him and does all he can to come through."Perseverance — "Wrestling’s not a popular sport," Hicks said, "but the kids I did have came out every day."Character — "You can see the difference in the kids," he said. "One year, we had a kid with anger problems. You could see him learn to control it. Another time, we had a kid with no confidence. You could see him grow. His final year, he lost only once."AFNORTH’s Blankenship echoed Hicks’ assessment of the effects volunteers have on student-athletes.

Military volunteers "teach our students more than X’s and O’s," he concluded. "…They are committed and responsible and act as honorable examples to the young athletes they coach."


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