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Thompson leaves as Pasco High mat coach

Joe Thompson needs a rest _ from the Pasco High wrestling team anyway.

The 48-year-old coach, who led the Pirates to a 77-9 dual-meet record (including a 40-match winning streak) and three district and two regional championships in five years, has stepped down to recharge his batteries.

"All coaches go through this," said Thompson, whose 1994-95 team came within 1 point in a semifinal match of winning the state Class 4A title. "They get tired. I'd like to have a vacation one time and spend some time away from it."

But not completely. Thompson said he will continue coaching at the Dade City Wrestling Club along with former Pasco assistant Scott Sinclair, who said he also resigned to free more time for his personal life.

Taking over at Pasco is Nelson Page, currently a custodian at the school who said his wrestling experience dates to his days at Waterloo High in Atwater, Ohio, and his time in the Army. Athletic director Willie Broner said Page was named after the usual five-day advertisement for the job did not produce any better candidates.

Practice begins Monday with a team upset it has lost its coach.

"We're used to coach Thompson's ways, and we know what he wanted," junior Daniel Davis said. "We don't know what this guy wants from us."

"It's very tough," Page, 42, said of replacing Thompson. "I've talked to him, and he said any time he could he would come out and help. He's not going to drop us and leave us hanging."

One thing hanging around the neck of the program is the lack of a wrestling room, something Thompson has strongly lobbied for since joining Pasco after six successful years at Zephyrhills.

With the gym generally booked for basketball practice and games, the Pirates have become nomads. Thompson said the team has practiced, among other places, on the school's stage, at Pasco Middle School, under the football stadium, and at a local church, and outside behind the school.

Still, Thompson said, "The school has supported me very well."

And there are signs a wrestling room is on the horizon.

Richard Hancock, whose son Chris was a 4A state champ at 130 pounds last season, has told the county school board he would find a contractor to do the construction if the county would supply the materials. The contractor's bill would be paid with a fund-raiser.

County supervisor of athletics Kit Broadbelt confirmed the plan, but said it is in the "very early stages."

What was in the works for awhile was Thompson's departure. He said he delayed it a year to see two wrestlers _ Hancock and Lalo Cruz _ through their senior seasons. And though Broner said there has been no talk of Thompson returning, Thompson did say he'd eventually be "back on the mat rolling around."

Whether that will be at Pasco is unclear. But as far as Pirates senior wrestler Chris Wheatley is concerned, "We want him back."