Heath Eslinger’s career with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is getting off to a fast start thanks to support from the Allan Jones Foundation.
The foundation has announced a $10,000 donation has been made to the organization in honor of Eslinger, who left his position as head coach of wrestling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in July to join FCA in a role with nationwide responsibility.
“The $10,000 donated by the Allan Jones Foundation will be a tremendous help to our coaches in the local community, country and even around the world,” Eslinger said. “We believe ministry is to, and through, the coach and this gives us an opportunity to really have an impact on young people.”
Eslinger said the Jones Foundation has always made, and continues to make, an impact on the wrestling community.
“I am grateful for what the support from Allan and his family has meant to me and my life on a personal level,” said Eslinger. “I am also grateful the foundation continues to invest in things that are truly making a difference.”
Eslinger resigned from UTC this summer after nine years. During his time there, he won six Southern Conference titles and has a career record of 101-61. He was named twice as SoCon Coach of the Year.
Eslinger graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1995. He became head coach of the Cleveland High School Blue Raiders in 2006 as the result of long-term, strategic planning by Check Into Cash Founder and CEO Allan Jones.
Jones and Eslinger created a “six-year-plan” that would empower Cleveland to do whatever it took to defeat their crosstown rivals, Bradley Central High School, by 2012.
Jones, a 1972 graduate and former wrestler for Cleveland High School, was voted outstanding wrestler in 1971 and most valuable wrestler in 1972. Jones came within a point of winning the state wrestling championship in 1972 and 38 years later — on the same day — his youngest son, Bailey, became Tennessee’s 160-pound D-I state wrestling champion while being coached by Eslinger.
Bailey Jones set the all-time record with 125 takedowns in the Greater Chattanooga Area that stood until 2012 when another Cleveland wrestler, four-time state champion Chris DeBien, broke it with 134 takedowns.
To bring in the best coaches to his alma mater in 2006, Jones was given the task of choosing a head coach for Cleveland High School. Candidates from all over the country were evaluated, and Jones and his team of experts eventually selected Eslinger.
“Wrestling is now the most decorated sport in the history of Cleveland High School, but it all was started when Heath Eslinger helped me form the Higher Calling Wrestling Club for kids in 2006,” said Jones. “Heath then had the wisdom to hire Josh Bosken to coach Higher Calling. Bosken joined the team as an assistant and quickly took over the reins. Our first year Cleveland finished third and has been either state champs or runner-up ever since.”
Jones noted that since Higher Calling started in 2006, Cleveland has reached the finals 11 times and finished as state champions in 2011 and again in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018. Much credit has been given to the “six-year-plan.”
Jones noted that, “Josh Bosken and Eslinger became the only teachers in the city school system where families moved to Cleveland for the kids to be taught by these two guys.”
In 2009, after three successful seasons with the Cleveland Blue Raiders, Eslinger caught the attention of UTC. He then became head wrestling coach there — taking his assistants with him. The move made Eslinger only the second high school wrestling coach in the country to go from a high school to a Division 1 college.
“Success in wrestling has everything to do with the right coaches and the six-year-plan proved that,” Jones said. “Bricks and mortar aren’t that important. Money can’t do it. Schools that win consistently have outstanding coaches leading their programs.”
Eslinger agreed with Jones and said the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group was very important to him and to young people everywhere.
“Kids need something to connect to. We want it to be something that gives them hope, and FCA is in our school systems as a ministry that gives them that hope,” he said. “Thanks to the Allan Jones Foundation, we are moving forward with great momentum.”
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