John White, the last remaining original coach at Matanzas High School, is stepping away from athletics.
White has coached wrestling and other sports since the school opened in 2005. He became head dean halfway through the current school year, and his schedule made it difficult to continue coaching, he said. He also wants to spend more time with his wife, Viki, and his children, Alex, Stone and Riley. He wants to watch his daughter, Riley, wrestle in college, and visit his son, Alex, who is in the Army and stationed in Oklahoma.
"He leaves a big hole. Since the school opened, he's put his blood, sweat and tears into the athletic program. He did a lot of great things for this program, and not just with wrestling. If they had trouble finding a coach early on, he stepped up and did it."
JORDAN BUTLER, Matanzas athletic director
"He leaves a big hole," Matanzas athletic director Jordan Butler said. "Since the school opened, he's put his blood, sweat and tears into the athletic program. He did a lot of great things for this program, and not just with wrestling. If they had trouble finding a coach early on, he stepped up and did it."
In 2013, White took a team or an individual to the state finals in every season. He coached boys and girls cross country in the fall, wrestling in the winter and girls tennis in the spring.
"That was the toughest year of our marriage," he said.
But White said without Viki's support, he never would have been able to coach for 17 years. And Matanzas wrestling wouldn't be what it is today.
He established the school's wrestling program, but perhaps his most lasting legacy will be what he did for girls wresting at Matanzas and statewide. With support from the administration, he established a girls wrestling team at Matanzas in 2019, and he was on the advisory committee that pushed the FHSAA to sanction girls wrestling as a sport.
In girls wrestling's first season as an official high school sport this school year, White's Pirates finished third overall at the state championships, one point behind second-place Ponte Vedra. Freshman Tiana Fries won a state title and three other Matanzas wrestlers won medals.
It all started in 2015 when one girl, Mikayla Wilder, wanted to join the Matanzas wrestling team. Then Angelina Bermudez came aboard. The next year, White had four girls wrestling with the boys, including his daughter, Riley.
"From there, it kind of grew. Three or four more the next year, then three or four more. The next thing you knew, we had 15 to 20 girls in the room, learning the sport. It just blossomed." said T.J. Gillin, who was hired as White's assistant coach in 2015.
In the 2018-2019 season, White began taking the girls to tournaments and let Gillin take over the boys squad when events conflicted. Gillin said there are not many head coaches who would give that kind of autonomy to a young assistant.
"During that time, he really helped me develop as a coach," Gillin said.
The following year, White became the girls wrestling coach when very few schools had a girls team, and Gillin became the head boys coach.
The girls program will continue with a new coach, and the boys and girls will continue to train together as one team, as they always have, Gillin said.
White said he will continue to attend every Matanzas home wrestling match next season and support the programs he started.
"I wouldn't have been able to do this for 17 years if I didn't have the support of so many people," White said. "All three of my kids grew up in the Matanzas weight room. So many families — the Wilders, the Nieves, the Dennis family, the Goodmans — sent multiple kids through our program. A lot of people believed in me and my program, and I'm grateful."