The Charlotte Latin wrestling team has always felt like family for Billy McClelland.
McClelland has grown up in the Hawks’ program for the past eight years. He began wrestling in fourth grade, working with assistant coach David Paige. Now he’s starting his final season in the sport as a three-time N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A state champion.
“The Latin wrestling team has really been like my second family all these years,” said McClelland, who started working with the Hawks so young mainly because his older brother, Peter, 22, was on the team. “I remember I was so intimidated by all the Latin wrestlers when I was a little kid, but (I) also wanted to be like them one day. Now that I am one of those older guys, I hope that I can give back to some of the middle school kids and the freshmen, and help share some of the same passion that I have gotten for the sport.”
His younger brother, Michael McClelland, is a sophomore and a standout for the Hawks’ wrestling team; he finished third in the state at 106 pounds as a freshman.
The elder McClelland has competed year-round between Latin and club teams since he was in seventh grade.
McClelland, a 5-foot-8, 132-pound senior, has accomplished nearly everything you can in a Latin uniform, winning the 113-pound state title as freshman (29-6), the 122-pound state championship as a sophomore (31-6), and the 132-pound state crown last season.
The Charlotte Latin captain has also helped his Hawks team (69-20 overall over the past three years) to three straight NCISAA 3A dual-team state championships.
McClelland, who has 51 pins in his first three seasons, could become the first four-time state champion at Latin since former Hawk wrestler Miller Warren won his fifth straight state title in the 1992-93 season, when athletes could compete in seventh and eighth grade.
“To win four state championships in a row is a very special accomplishment that not many wrestlers anywhere even get an opportunity to achieve,” said Charlotte Latin wrestling coach Richard Fletcher, who is in his 24th year as head coach. “But it’s no coincidence for Billy. He has worked as hard as anyone to get this point. But even after all he’s accomplished on the mat, he wants even more this year. He knows it’s not going to be easy; he knows the mountain he has to climb.”
McClelland, 18, also hopes to earn All-American status by finishing in the top eight at the Prep National Wrestling Championships Feb. 27-28 at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
McClelland finished 12th at Prep Nationals as a freshman and has competed the last two seasons, though he hasn’t finished in the top 12.
Latin’s Toby Okwara finished eighth at Prep Nationals (285 pounds) to become an All-American last February.
Fletcher has had only one other All-American: Holt Wrenn, a 1997 graduate.
“To win four straight state titles is definitely a major accomplishment and something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and it’s on my mind every day,” said McClelland, who can bench 245 pounds and do 45 pullups. “But I’ve been chasing that All-American (status) for my entire career, and that’s what I really want even more this year. …
“It’s really either All-American or bust. I am planning on going to Pennsylvania and finishing off this season as an All-American. I really go out and leave a great legacy at Charlotte Latin. That is really important me.”
McClelland and the rest of his 2015 Latin senior class – Bentley Dalton, Steven Glaser, Ken Koch, Okwara and Nick Wilson – could also make history by winning a fourth straight team title. It would be the longest streak of Fletcher’s tenure and the second longest in school history since winning five straight from 1987 to 1991.
McClelland signed on Nov. 17 to wrestle at Davidson after committing to the Wildcats earlier in the month.
McClelland, a 3.7 GPA student, chose Davidson over Ivy League schools like Brown and Princeton.
“Davidson was the best choice for me both academically and athletically,” said McClelland. “I can’t wait to spend another four years at a great school, getting a great education while also being able to do to what I love to do on the wrestling mat.”