Jim Bird, the long-time Athletics Director and legendary wrestling coach at Osceola High School is calling it a career at the school. Bird, who spent nearly 30 years with the Kowboys, is stepping down on July 15.
He has accepted a teaching and coaching position at Gulf Breeze High in Santa Rosa County in the Florida panhandle. “Obviously leaving great friends, colleagues and memories behind,” Bird said. “But all things come must come to an end. This move is strictly about family. I have children and grandchildren in Atlanta and Chattanooga and this will allow my wife and me to be a lot closer to them.”
Bird’s accomplishments as both an Athletics Director and wrestling coach are impressive. He came to Osceola High School in 1987, where he was an assistant football and wrestling coach. He briefly left to coach in Pennsylvania for 1994-1996, returning as head wrestling coach for the 1996-97 season.
He would begin to build one of the best high school wrestling programs in the nation.
“Is Someone who gave all to Kowboy program. A tradition of excellence is the OHS motto and Coach Bird is a prime example of that Tradition. He will be missed and difficult to replace, and I’m pleased I had a chance to learn from him over the years,” District Coordinator of Athletics, Physical Education, JROTC and Drivers Education with the School District of Osceola County said.
Starting with Alex Eggers winning the 140-lb. championship in 2007, Bird has produced at least one state champion for 16 consecutive years. His teams have finished in the top six in the state in those same 16 years, including winning a state title in 2009 and finishing as runner-up in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
In all 17 different Osceola wrestlers have claimed a total of 32 state championships – including Fox Baldwin who still holds the national records for career wins and was a four-time state champion.
Bird leaves the program on a high note. Last year, three of his wrestlers – all underclassmen – won state championships including Cooper Haase, Gunner Holland and Anderson Heap. Haase, a rising senior, will have a chance to match Baldwin as Osceola’s only four-time state champion. With 106 team points score at the 4A State Tournament last March, the Kowboys finished third in the state.
The consistency of producing champions became a Bird rally cry with the team. “We’re not superstitious and we talked about the streak all the time,” Bird said. “In the first meeting every year, we write on the chalkboard… ‘Who Is Next?’…we take a lot of pride in producing champions.”
Coach Bird embraced equality; encouraging and welcoming girls who wanted to participate in wrestling to join his program and club team. He was a driving force in elevating girls’ wrestling to varsity status last year.
His organizational skills were recognized by the fact that Osceola was selected as the host school for numerous district, regional and state championships. Heritage Park has been site of the state championship for most of the past decade, with Osceola High serving as host institution. Created five years ago, every state dual meet championship has been hosted by the Kowboys. In addition, the Christmas Knockout Classic – one of the largest and most prestigious holiday tournaments in the country was created and hosted by Bird and Osceola high school.
Bird has gained the respect of the state and national wrestling community. Vic Balmeceda, has coached South Dade to 17 state championships once said “Jim had never bent his morals or ethics to win a match and that is extremely hard to find these days.” Vic Lorenzano, himself a coaching legend, said “He has been so important to not only Osceola High School but to the sport itself. When you are trying to build a program, Osceola is the school you want to copy.”
But building a wrestling program is just part of the legacy he will leave behind. As Athletics Director, Bird has seen his basketball team win two state championships and reach another final four. The Osceola football program – long considered a state power – reached three state championship games under Bird; while baseball, softball and other sports have claimed numerous district and regional titles.
“He has always had a unique ability to select the right head coach and then get out of there way without micromanaging,” Osceola baseball coach Scott Birchler said. “One of the most unique things he does as an AD is to encourage all the coaches in all the sports to communicate with each other and exchange ideas.”
“This guy runs his own highly successful program, oversees all athletics and yet I always see him at our games and practices,” Kowboys basketball coach Steve Mason said. “I have never seen a better or more effective AD. He supports all the school’s teams and athletes and is certainly leaving some big shoes to fill.”
“I’ve known Jim since we were high school students back in Spencer, West Virginia,” former coach Doug Nichols said. “He was responsible for bringing me to the school in 1990. When I was the head football coach, no one was more supportive or our program that Coach Bird. He never favored his program over any of the other teams at the school and his mission was to always make sure that all the coaches had what we needed to have to compete.”
Osceola is expected to name a new athletics director and wrestling coach soon.