Chris Ervin feared he had destroyed everything Hall of Fame coach Dan Welliever had built.
Now, 29 years after walking into the doors at Crawfordsville High School as a student teacher from Wabash, Ervin is stepping away from the wrestling program with a 258-252-2 dual record and seven state qualifiers in 25 years as the Athenian wrestling coach.
Ervin stepped down in 2010 and turned the program over to Roger Tribbett to focus on sports at the youth level with his son Chadd, who graduated in 2019, but took back over the program in 2014, before announcing his retirement last week.
“My first seven or eight years in the 90s honestly weren’t very good,” Ervin said. “I was trying to figure out what I was doing and I was coaching a lot of sports and a lot of turnover with assistant coaches. I felt kind of responsible. I was here when it burned down, and it’s up to me to rebuild it.”
Ervin, a Huntington North High School grad and 2002 Wabash College Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, took the job in the fall of 1991 as a student teacher, following Welliever’s retirement in the spring of 91.
“I went straight from the mats at Wabash to being a head high school coach with no experience,” Ervin said.
It took a few years to rebuild the program, but Ervin remembers it starting with the class of 2000, who went from 0-16 as freshmen to winning seasons as junior and seniors.
“Ever since then that we got that group of seniors to stick with it, we’ve been pretty consistently a winning program since 2000,” he said.
Ervin coached his first state qualifier in Brian Miller, who qualified at 189 pounds in 2002. Dylan McBride was a two-time qualifier, placing sixth at 285 in 2010.
“It’s been a good run, I’m just ready — it’s more of a gut feeling than anything,” Ervin said of his decision. “It’s probably not the coaching thing of it. I really enjoy going to practice every day, I enjoy teaching wrestling, and working with the kids, but it’s what is coming up here. It’s March, April, May and June. And coaching throughout the spring and summer. For several years I just did it, that’s what you do. I got to a point where I want to be doing other things in the spring and the summer, and that helped make the decision.”
Ervin, who has coached over 50 seasons of sports at Crawfordsville, will be hard to replace as the wrestling coach.
“Coach Ervin came in as a recent Wabash College graduate and followed Hall of Fame coach, Dan Welliever,” Crawfordsville athletic director Bryce Barton said. “It was a tough position to be in, but Chris did it the right way. He was always asking other successful coaches throughout our area and across the state on how to develop the best program possible. He never settled for the status quo and was always trying to be better as the wrestling in Montgomery County continued to get better each year.”
“Chris built a program the right way,” Barton added. “He had his hands and eyes on his youth and middle school programs. He had several state qualifiers that came up through his youth program. More importantly, he developed quality young men in his program that learned a good work ethic, commitment to others, and to persevere through difficult times.”
Despite a lack of success at the county and conference level in team competition, Ervin is proud of how he was able to keep Crawfordsville and Montgomery County wrestling on the map.
“In Montgomery County for the last 20 years there has never really been a down year for wrestling,” he said. “We never had the success we wanted to as far as in the county or the conference. Almost and close a few times, but I also credit that to North and South. They had hall of fame coaches. J.D. Minch (North Montgomery), and what Swain (Maurice) did was kind of an unprecedented run there. Jamie Welliever and Kevin Wilkinson (Southmont coaches). I mean you’re not competing against slouches there.”
Ervin helped start the first youth program in the county at Crawfordsville in 1997, and North Montgomery and Southmont quickly followed.
The success the county has had since is no coincidence.
“It’s definitely changed wrestling in Montgomery County,” Ervin said. “You see kids at the high school level that have wrestled for several years. Those guys were wrestling in the offseason and there are people in the club system that grow up realizing ‘I’ve got to wrestle and I’ve got to compete and I can compete with big schools or different people.’”
What Ervin will miss the most will be the relationships he’s built over the years with not only wrestlers, but other coaches, and officials.
“I have some really cool relationships with former wrestlers,” he said. “We had an alumni night this year and had 26 wrestlers back. One of the biggest groups was from one of my first few years as coaching, when I honestly didn’t know what I was doing, but it was neat to see those guys and that they still consider themselves proud of Crawfordsville wrestling, and so those relationships have been important to me.”
Ervin says coaches like former North Montgomery coach J.D. Minch, current Southmont coach Jamie Welliever, Dan Welliever, and Rick Overfield, who was the longtime coach at Western Boone, and is now an assistant at Southmont, helped mold him into the coach he is today.
As Ervin steps away from the program for a final time, he wants to express his gratitude toward the many assistant coaches he’s had.
“I want to recognize my assistant coaches. I have had some really good ones the last few years,” he said. “Aaron Keller was my varsity assistant, and he has been with CHS for about 10-11 years. He coached with me the last year or two of my first stint, and had been on staff since then. He is also running our youth program this year. My other two assistants were Dylan McBride and Robert Manns. I coached both of those guys, and they are No. 1 and No. 2 on our career wins lists. It has been really fun for me to have those guys on staff, and they have brought a lot of energy to our program.”