Coach Shawn Weltzin has built a dominating wrestling dynasty at Thompson High School.

By Loyd McIntosh

As the 2021-22 Alabama high school wrestling season heads toward its conclusion, the Thompson Warriors are, once again, favorites to win the state team championship as well as a handful of individual titles. These days, finding Thompson Warriors Wrestling at the top of the heap is as normal as the sun rising in the east every morning. Since 2011, Thompson High School has won eight state championships—four each in 6A and 7A—including a string of five straight titles from 2011 to 2015, and three in a row from 2018 to 2020. The Warriors look to start another streak of championships after coming up short in 2021. The team’s run of championships would be praiseworthy under any circumstances. However, the program’s success is more awe-inspiring considering THS’s wrestling program launched in 2008 under the careful leadership of head coach Shawn Weltzin.

            A native of Pelham, Weltzin moved to Alabaster and started his coaching career soon after graduating from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in 2005. Somewhat shy and admittedly an “awkward interview,” Weltzin says he had a hard time finding work at first until an opportunity to start a youth wrestling program in Alabaster came his way. “I applied to at least 30 different jobs, and nobody hired me,” admits Weltzin.

            “A couple of guys in Alabaster said, ‘Hey, we’re starting a youth club; do you want to come to coach it? You can coach the youth, and then we’ll get you hired on at the middle school next year,’ so that’s what happened,” says Weltzin. “In 2005, I graduated from college, moved to Alabaster, and started coaching the youth. The next year, we started the middle school team, and then, the following year, we started the high school team.” Humble to a fault, Weltzin’s resumé is rather impressive. He earned a Bachelor of Science in EHLS: Kinesiology-Exercise Science. During his time at UTC, he was a student assistant to Olympic bronze medalist Terry Brands, now an assistant coach at the University of Iowa. He helped establish the Alabaster Youth Wrestling Association upon his arrival in 2005 and was successful right out of the gate. In 2006, after one year of existence, Weltzin led the program to the Alabama Youth State Team Championship.

He moved on to Thompson the next year to start the high school program and, just four years later, led the Warriors to the first of five-straight state titles. The success of Weltzin and the young Thompson wrestling program is unprecedented. However, when asked what sets Weltzin’s program apart from its peers or how his coaching style has led to Thompson wrestling dominance, he is tight-lipped about it or as stunned by it as anyone. “I don’t know. I guess I was young and dumb and didn’t know if anything I was doing was wrong or not,” says Weltzin. “God definitely had a plan, and it just kind of happened that way. It wasn’t anything I did, because I was just doing what I thought was right.” While Weltzin’s personality may possess a healthy dose of aww-shcucksism, the fact is Weltzin is an exceptional coach and a bit of a shrewd operator. While working to convince the community and parents to support competitive wrestling in Alabaster, Weltzin put his job on the line, guaranteeing success quickly or he’d step down. That first state title in 2011 was a load off his mind. “It was a big relief because I had told the parents that if we didn’t get a championship in a certain amount of time, then I would step down and be an assistant coach,” says Weltzin.

Weltzin discovered wrestling after getting cut during tryouts for the basketball team during his freshman year at Pelham High School. Already a cross-country runner, Weltzin had decided not to pursue indoor track thinking he would make the basketball squad. Without a winter sport, legendary Pelham High School wrestling coach Bob Parker stopped Weltzin in the hallway one day and asked him if he would be interested in giving wrestling a try. “I said okay, I need something to do, and I just kind of fell in love with it there,” says Weltzin. “Whenever I had some issues at home or at school or anything like that, he was always there to pick me up and talk to me. He was a very good mentor to me,” adds Weltzin. “He was one of the reasons I wanted to become a coach.”

            With seven titles under his belt and chasing an eighth, Weltzin is at the top of his game. Today, his son is a freshman on the Thompson wrestling team, his daughter wrestles on the eighth-grade team, and he’s sent several athletes on to compete in college, including one to Columbia University and one to the Naval Academy. However, it was that first group of champions that he considers one of his greatest accomplishments. “I got to move up with the kids that graduated in 2012 that I had coached since they were in sixth grade,” Weltzin says. “It was a great experience, because it was the same group of kids, all that time, from middle school through the high school,” he adds. “They just kind of grew up with me.”