By JEFF KOLB

@Jeff_Kolb

Abandoning something that threatens your life seems logical.

Ian Hammond is different.

A senior at Chambersburg, Hammond has never considered life without wrestling - for him, wrestling is life.

For outsiders looking in on Chambersburg's diehard wrestling community, the sport and its people can seem like a cult.

Unlike sports that can attract players and fans with slam dunks and home runs, the iconic images in wrestling don't tend to advertise it as attractively. People like Trojan coach Doug Rine understand that and know if they don't spend long hours developing a strong youth program, they'll have no talent to coach at the high school level.

In truth, if you're not rolling around on a mat at a very young age, you may never understand the sport and the way it can infuse itself into the lives of athletes like Ian Hammond.

"If you have the opportunity to get on a mat as a little kid, that competitive nature comes out and becomes overwhelmingly powerful for kids and families," says Rine, who completed his 18th season coaching at CASHS this winter.

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Encouraging words: Ian Hammond, in blue, yells out instructions to a Chambersbur wrestler during a high school match this season. Hammond, who can no longer wrestle because of an injury, has made big strides toward becoming a coach. (Courtesy Hammond family)

The Hammonds are one of those families. When Ian's best friend Tanner Shoap - now the record-holder at Chambersburg with 150 career victories - convinced him and his twin, Garett, to give wrestling a try in first grade, the lives of both brothers soon became consumed with the sport. Today, Garett is revered as the best wrestler in Chambersburg history after winning back-to-back state titles - something no Trojan had ever done before.

While Garett's path has given him a chance to wrestle for Penn State, the top program in the country, wrestling drew Ian's life in a different direction on May 22, 2011.

Competing in a Pa. State Wrestling Federation Greco-Roman championship match that Sunday, Hammond - then one of the most promising Trojan wrestlers - suffered a subdural hematoma that nearly killed him.

Looking back now, it might be the luckiest day of his life; not because he survived an injury that has a mortality rate of roughly 80 percent and miraculously recovered without incuring any permanent damage - but because his dream of a life as a wrestling coach was born.

Time means everything for a person suffering a subdural hematoma like Ian's. During that match, Ian missed an attempted headlock. When his head hit the mat, he tore a blood vessel near the outer portion of his brain. Because the flow of blood into his skull was slow, as is typical with the injury, Ian was able to finish the match, which he lost, and appeared fine for several minutes afterward. All the while, blood continued to gather in his skull - a dangerous predicament because of the pressure it puts on the brain.

In control: Ian Hammond had two productive seasons of high school wrestling until his career was cut short by an injury.
In control: Ian Hammond had two productive seasons of high school wrestling until his career was cut short by an injury. (Courtesy Hammond family)
Fortunately, Ian was in surgery within two hours after the bleeding had thrown him into a seizure. There, doctors removed part of his skull to extract a large portion of the blood clot that had formed.

A month and five titanium pins in his skull later, Ian wasn't just alive but carrying one burning question: Could he wrestle?

His luck had run out. In a June checkup, the doctor told him contact sports were out of the question. If he reinjured himself, the outcome would likely be much worse.

When Rine's phone rang with Hammond's first call after the appointment, the coach was ready for the news and armed with a new plan of attack - making Ian into a coach.

"Right away we came up with a plan to make sure Ian was going to spend a considerable amount of time with our youth wrestlers," Rine said.

Eyeing his job: Ian Hammond, right, poses with Chambersburg wrestling coach Doug Rine. Hammond’s dream is to one day take Rine’s spot as the
Eyeing his job: Ian Hammond, right, poses with Chambersburg wrestling coach Doug Rine. Hammond's dream is to one day take Rine's spot as the Trojans' head coach. (Courtesy Hammond family)
 "You've got to keep somebody like Ian involved with the program."

Head start

At first, Ian wasn't sure Rine's idea was a good one - he didn't think of himself as a "kid person." But just as he had become hooked on competing as a wrestler, it wasn't long before Ian fell in love with the joys of coaching.

"I've had a lot more success coaching than I've had wrestling," Ian said. "At (the 2012 Pa. Junior Wrestling championships) I had three kids place, and that's a tournament I'd never placed at before."

With a deep knowledge of wrestling technique, a gift to communicate his coaching and a love for the sport strong enough to win over his youth wrestlers, their parents and everyone in between, Ian's progression as a coach has been rapid.

Ian's experience has extended to coaching at the high school level, too, where he attended every Chambersburg practice and match in the two seasons since his injury. Rine and assistant coach Matt Mentzer - who is in charge of the Lincoln Highway Wrestling Club youth practices where Ian coaches - have allowed him to act as another Trojan coach, at times even letting him sit in one of the coach's chairs during matches.

It's experience high school students simply don't get - the equivalent of a top math student taking control of a calculus class or a lead actor in a school play holding the responsiblities of a director.

Since the injury, Ian's had the opportunity to evaluate wrestling from a different perspective alongside Rine and Mentzer. Being in Pennsylvania, one of the more wrestling-crazed states, he's had the luxury of seeing some of the nation's best talents at work, including Kennard-Dale's three-time state champion Chance Marsteller. Those experiences have gone a long way in building up his coaching repertoire.

"I'm actually looking more in-depth into the techniques and I'm not focusing on cutting weight or wrestling," Ian said. "I'm focusing on how I'm going to take (a skill) and help another kid out."

When asked how developed Ian already is as a coach, Rine said, "If he was of age, had graduated from college and was mature enough to handle high school-age boys, technique-wise he possesses the skills to coach at the high school level right now."

The project

Chambersburg 170-pounder Adam Tardosky was not one of those wrestlers who'd matriculated up through the youth program. In fact, until last year Tardosky was a basketball player. As a junior he'd decided to try wrestling and had posted a 2-12 record.

Asking a coach to build a successful wrestler in two years is like asking the President to balance the budget in four: Good luck.

Rine said, "This was Adam's second year in a sport where you don't even develop a personal style until you've been wrestling for about five years."

With enough coaches to cover the rest of the team during practice, Rine challenged Ian to work with Tardosky one-on-one. Before long, Adam had a knew nickname.

"They actually started calling me the 'Ian Hammond Project,'" said Tardosky, who understood of the coaching challenge he posed for Ian. "We needed a better 170-pound slot, so he took me on just to make the team better and he helped me out in a huge way."

No matter the mental roadblocks he met with Tardosky, Ian worked them through.

"I definitely wasn't the easiest kid to coach," Tardosky said, "but he would get through to me somehow. We'd go over things and he'd break it down - he just made it easier."

Once wrestling practice started, Ian commanded the respect of a coach from Tardosky and the other wrestlers.

"That's a big difference between being a coach sitting in the corner and being a friend off the mat," Mentzer said. "There's a different nuance there when you're giving orders."

Before long, Ian's work was showing up in Tardosky's performance. Adam finished the season with seven wins, although his most crucial match came when he avoided giving up bonus points in a win over Wilson that vaulted Chambersburg into the District 3 Class AAA championship match.

"I knew during that match Ian was better qualified to coach Adam than I was because he'd worked with him," Mentzer said, "so I gave up my seat in the coach's chair and waved him over."

Tardosky said, "During that match, (Ian) was trying to get me to circle more because the kid (Adam Brown) I was wrestling kept hitting an outside sweep. With about 10 seconds left and (Brown) a couple of points away from a major decision, I looked at Ian and he said, 'Protect the leg.' I circled around and kept it to a regular decision."

Tardosky lost 12-6, but giving up three points instead of a four-point major decision proved crucial in the Trojans' 30-29 victory.

Fluent in wrestling

As with teaching anything, attempting to impart a wrestling concept on someone and actually seeing them get it are two different things.

"A lot of people know how to do a skill, but it's a completely different animal trying to communicate what to do through words to teach it properly," Mentzer said.

Ian has that gift.

"I'm a huge visual learner," Ian said. "I have to show it. I can't just be like go here, here and here. I've got to grab a little kid (to demonstrate) and say, 'OK, you're going to go here with this.' It's kind of like a monkey-see-monkey-do."

Because his teaching methods click with his students, Lincoln Highway kids clamor for Ian's attention.

Rine said, "Ian's got a way with the kids and is able to impart his knowledge on them in a way they get it and want to perform for him."

Rine's impact

In a sport so different from any other, Rine is fittingly not your average coach. It's not his time logged in the role - Rine was recruited to coach at Chambersburg in 1995 after coaching at Catoctin, Md. for eight years, and spending five years prior to that as an assistant at Shippensburg H.S. - but his investment in the welfare of his wrestlers throughout those years.

If you're part of Rine's wrestling program, you're family.

"I'm with them all the time," Rine said. "I really think that is kind of unique to wrestling."

There is no true offseason in Rine's wrestling world, where spring, summer and fall are filled with days devoted to driving his wrestlers around to various tournaments and events.

Rine's family-style approach has rubbed off on Hammond in a big way.

"We're like a family because we always spend so much time together," Ian said. "To get better at wrestling you can't show up in November and expect to win in March. You've got to start practice in March and show up in November expecting to win the next March."

Ian's mother, Lori, appreciates how powerful it has been to watch Rine and Mentzer keep Ian involved at Chambersburg and aid him in finding a new way to channel his passion for wrestling.

"Doug Rine and Matt Mentzer have helped him tremendously," Lori said. "They've made him a part of the team and put him on the roster. He's traveled with them as if he's starting. There's not many coaches that would have done that."

Chasing the dream

Ian's dream isn't to be a wrestling coach just anywhere - his plan is to bring his talents back home to Chambersburg.

"My goal is to become the youngest coach in the Mid Penn," Ian said.

In the fall, along with Shoap, who will wrestle on scholarship, Ian will enroll at Drexel University.

"I want to major in education," Ian said, "come back here in five years, be a teacher and hopefully coach."

Ian's father, Mark, and Lori know that dreams of 18-year olds can change easily.

Still, wrestlers have a competitive nature - tell them they won't and they probably will.

Mentzer hopes Ian comes back to Franklin County someday, partly to benefit the area's wrestlers and partly for a more selfish reason.

"I could not put into words how happy I would be if he would come back to Chambersburg," Mentzer said. "I'd want him to come back and coach my son - partly because he's such a good kid and partly because I want to sit in the stands and be a dad. That's about the highest praise I think I can give someone."

Ian has already been vocal about his dream to the person who inspired it and holds the wrestling godfather title he someday hopes to inherit.

"It makes me swell with pride," Rine said. "I'd like to see him come back and become a permanent part of the staff, and I'd like to see him take this program over someday."

Ian Hammond hopes to make that dream a reality.

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Jeff Kolb can be reached at 262-4819 or jkolb@publicopinionnews.com