ST. PETERSBURG — If a student leaves a school district, it usually doesn't result in severe consequences for the left-behind school.
But when three athletes from the same family pack up and leave, it can create a ripple effect. Just ask Countryside and Northside Christian.
Dillon, 19, and Dalton Dennis, 16, were state wrestling qualifiers at Countryside last year. Just days before the 2008-09 season began, David and Becky Dennis enrolled their kids at Northside. The move also affected younger brother Dryden, 15, who is making his varsity debut this season, and down the road could impact a fourth son, Daxon, 7.
The Cougars suddenly lost three strong athletes. The Mustangs went from a wrestling unknown to a potential county powerhouse. As February's district tournament nears, both schools are still trying to digest all that has happened.
"I was very surprised," said Northside coach Chris Wilmington, who pointed out others knew the Dennis brothers would be on his team before he did.
"Being such a small school, I'm used to grabbing kids from junior high and in the band to get out there. I got a call that a family was coming up to do a shadow at the school. They told me the name and I thought it sounded familiar. I thought it had to be a coincidence."
At Countryside, coach Mark Prince had the three brothers penciled into his starting lineup. Once they left, the 2008 Times Wrestling Coach of the Year had to rely on younger, inexperienced athletes to fill the weight classes. The growing process has been slow, but in recent weeks the Cougars have seen success.
"Wrestling is tough," Prince said. "… We're not Brandon. We're not deep. These kids were with us and they were good kids working hard. You have 14 weight classes. Suddenly we were looking for three starters."
The problem started when the Dennis family moved from Oklahoma to Pinellas County. They picked Countryside because it was expected Jared Frayer, a former University of Oklahoma wrestler, would become the assistant coach, perhaps some day head coach. Countryside's current assistant coach is David Frayer, Jared's father.
But after training for a shot at the Olympics, Jared accepted a position with the University of Iowa wrestling team. The Dennis family decided it no longer wanted to remain at Countryside.
During the family's quest to resolve its plans, David Dennis ran into another new wrestler from Northside, Ryan Allen, who transferred from Calvary Christian. David researched the school on the Internet and liked what he saw. The rest was history.
Wilmington, also the dean of students, the football team's defensive coordinator and an assistant track coach, said he was excited about the Dennises' decision, but it created immediate backlash, including accusations of recruiting.
"I have better things to do than go looking for talent," Wilmington said. "I had support from the Dennis family when the bashing started. They told me they wanted an environment that was more to their spiritual growth."
Bashing aside, the move has been a tremendous help in putting Northside Christian wrestling on the map. The team has won two tournaments this season, is 9-6 overall and could be listed in the state wrestling program next month in Lakeland.
Dillon, a senior, was 38-10 for the Cougars last year. Dalton, a sophomore, was 46-4. Both said they have no regrets becoming Mustangs, but want to trade in their seasonlong ripple for a state ribbon. That would bring closure — at least for this season.