August 16th, 2016

Adams takes over Bellarmine wrestling program

Adam Pruiett

Bellarmine University Assistant S.I.D

Adams takes over Bellarmine wrestling program
photo provided by Bellarmine

 As a science nut, Spencer Adams can appreciate that wrestling is simply in his DNA.

The first head coach in the newly founded Bellarmine University program began planning for life after the sport when he was an upperclassman at Campbellsville University. The biology major took a class in Puerto Rico, lived in the jungles of Costa Rica for a week at a time on two mission trips and completed an internship at Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky. Life as an environmental conservationist — "kind of a save-the-world type of deal," as he puts it — was his future.

Once his three-time NAIA All-American career was over, he took a job in the metro parks system in Delaware, Ohio. But three months in, a sense of emptiness came over him.

"Something was missing," Adams recalled. "I wanted to be involved in wrestling. I didn't think I would actually get that upset about it, but it was eating at me."

He acted on that craving, and these days he gets his fill of wrestling. First it came as the architect of Taylor County (Ky.) High School's program. Then it came as the builder of St. Catharine (Ky.) College's program. Now Adams will shepherd Bellarmine into the arena of wrestling.

It is indeed in the 26 year old's blood.

Adams began wrestling at the age of 7. After three years, he took a hiatus from the sport to pursue basketball, but he decided to return to the mat in middle school. He had no idea what he was getting into as his team trained with Marion Pleasant High School in Ohio. The head coach was Doug Short, a future Ohio High School Wrestling Coaches Hall of Famer. Assistants included Sergei Kitaev, the former Belarus national team wrestling coach, and two former Ohio State wrestlers, Jeff and Rocky Ratliff. Douglas Blubaugh, an Olympic gold medalist in 1960, helped train the team for two weeks every winter.

When it came to the team, performance matched coaching pedigree. Adams had teammates that would land at Ohio State, Cleveland State, Virginia and Harvard. Initially that level of talent made a pre-high school Adams want to race out of the gym door and never look back.

"I went in there and I got my butt kicked," Adams said with a laugh. "My dad (Trevor Adams) would not let me quit. I wanted to so bad, but he would not let me. I remember saying, 'Look, dad, I'm not going back.' He told me that I was — otherwise I'd have to sit in my room for the whole season. I'd have to go home and couldn't go out. So the next day, I was in the car going to practice."

Opting for the mat over house arrest turned out to be a defining life decision. Adams developed into a program standout, reaching the state semifinals two years in a row and helping lead Marion Pleasant to consecutive state duals championships (2007 and 2008) his junior and senior seasons.

Adams maintained that level of excellence throughout his collegiate career at Campbellsville. A team captain from 2009-12, he earned All-America accolades as a true freshman and added two more as a junior and senior.

"I wish I would have been a national champion. That's my one and only regret," Adams said. "I beat guys who were in the finals, but I just didn't get it done. When you look at it, though, if the worst you can say is that you wish you could have been a national champion, that's a pretty good career."

When that superlative competitive career ended and Adams began yearning for a return to the mat shortly after entering the work force, Kentucky's Taylor County High School called about the possibility of starting its program. Adams jumped at the opportunity, threw himself into fundraising, harnessed the raw talent his squad possessed and seemingly overnight gained respectability and credibility, as Taylor County produced one Kentucky state qualifier and five alternates in Adams' first year. He did all of this, mind you, with a wife, young child and while pursuing a master's degree at Campbellsville.

St. Catharine was so impressed with Adams that he was hired to begin the college's wrestling program. Once again, Adams wasted no time in making a mark, guiding the Patriots to finishes of 39th (2015) and 31st (2016) in the NAIA National Championship. Most important to him was that the squad was honored in 2015-16 with the NAIA's prestigious "Champions of Character" team award, which recognizes teams from the NAIA's 23 championship sports that demonstrate in every-day decisions integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership. In addition to coaching, he served on the NAIA Cultural Exchange Committee and was on St. Catharine's Faculty Government Committee as the athletics department's representative.

Over the summer, St. Catharine closed. Amid a flood of emotions, Adams remained steadfast in seeking the next step. With assistant coach Gary Canter, they "hit the road and talked to (Bellarmine Director of Athletics) Scott (Wiegandt) that same day." Adams didn't just pique the interest of the BU athletics program — attention came from several places.

"It felt good to be wanted, but I was so stressed out because I had to find a place for our (St. Catharine wrestlers) to go," Adams said. "I promised them that I would find them a place if anything happened. That was my main concern.

"If worse came to worst, I would go back and coach high school. But I wanted to continue coaching college, ultimately, and if a college wanted all of us I would try to get us all there."

And he accomplished that mission.

"Interim President Dr. Doris Tegart and our Board of Trustees were very alert and strategic in grabbing the opportunity to absorb St. Catharine's wrestling program," Wiegandt said. "The program will flourish at Bellarmine and be one of the seven GLVC teams to compete for a conference championship. We are happy to welcome Spencer Adams as our head coach. He comes highly recommended and has already had a team nationally recognized for service. I am glad he is a Knight!"

President Tegart whole-heartedly agreed with that sentiment.

"I am so excited to have wrestling at Bellarmine, and I must thank our AD, Scott Wiegandt, for his convincing Coach Adams to come aboard," Tegart said. "One of the things that sold me on the coach was his apparent devotion to the development of the whole student … not just wrestling skills. For example, his practice of requiring student service projects assures me that he understands the Bellarmine culture."

Adams may be overseeing the birth of another wrestling program, but this time he'll do it with plenty of familiar faces who know how he operates and understand his expectations.

"Our guys are good leaders," he said of the St. Catharine's contingent of wrestlers who are now Knights, "they're hard workers. They're blue collar."

Canter got to know Adams while they coached against each other in the high school ranks. A successful partnership was then formed at St. Catharine, one that will continue at Bellarmine.

"Spencer is a very good technician. That's probably his strongest suit when it comes to wrestling, but he's very mature for his age, too," Canter said. "People don't realize how young he is when they meet him because he carries himself well, deals very well with administration and has a lot of experience for a coach as young as he is. He's worked on organization and other intangibles that come with being a coach. He's really developed into a confident coach and will make a big impression on people at the Division II level."

Adams is welcoming the opportunity to develop a new program at Bellarmine. He knows it's a process and, as his background attests, he will immerse himself in it.

Said Adams: "We're going to be tough in all aspects — in the classroom, in the community, on the mat."

In other words, it will be in the team's DNA.


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