History-making Hoke High wrestling coach dies

The first coach to lead a Hoke High girls team in the sport of wrestling passed away suddenly last week.

Hoke High Head Wrestling Coach Vernon Walworth died Friday at the age of 59.

Walworth was a nationally recognized pioneer coach in girls wrestling. For many years he pushed for organization of the sport as its own athletic division in North Carolina.

With his guidance, the Bucks girls wrestling team was one of the first in the state recognized as separate from boys wrestling. The team made history by competing in the first Girls Wrestling Invitational at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in January 2019.

Under Walworth’s leadership, in just a few short years the Bucks girls wrestling team went on to see success. In March 2020 the Hoke girls All American wrestlers placed at the Atlantic Coast Girls Wrestling Nationals held at Methodist University. Earlier this year, the Bucks brought home top honors from the state women’s wrestling invitational, including the individual state championship.

Hoke Schools Athletic Director Gary Brigman said Walworth was proud of the young athletes. He was a veteran coach who did a lot to support the sport he cared about, Brigman said.

“He’s been a mentor to a lot of young wrestling coaches in the southeastern part of the state. He’s by far one of the most knowledgeable wrestling coaches in the state. A lot of people lean on him.”

Hoke Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Dowless said Walworth was “well-respected and much-loved” as a coach and teacher.

“As a school community, we are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Vernon Walworth. To say we are heartbroken is a true understatement. As a well-respected and much-loved wrestling coach and CTE teacher, the impact he made on the lives of countless students and staff will be felt for years to come,” she said. “We ask that everyone please keep Coach Walworth’s family and our Hoke County High School family in your thoughts during this difficult time.”

Walworth was named North Carolina’s first-ever Girls’ Wrestling Coach of the Year in 2019. The National Wrestling Coaches Association awarded him the honor, which also put him in the running as a finalist for the NWCA National Coach of the Year.

“Vernon is committed to growing the sport for girls in the state of North Carolina with the intention to help sanction the state for girls wrestling,” the Wrestle Like a Girl nonprofit organization said at the time.

Walworth received the SEC Wrestling Coach of the Year award while coaching for Hoke County. He saw many years of success coaching boys wrestling at the high school, with Bucks student athletes qualifying for the NCHSAA State Wrestling Championships. He was also very active in student services with the High School Athletics Association. He worked with the Student Athlete Summer Institute at UNC-Pembroke each summer, and played a big role in wrestling programs in southeastern North Carolina.

Besides his work as a coach, Walworth taught digital design and animation, game art design and business and marketing at Hoke High. He and his wife have three children and two grandchildren.

Obituary and funeral information was not immediately available.

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