For a decade, Paul Beasley and his assistant coaches have wanted to build The Dalles High School wrestling back to its successful past.
It has been a labor of love, with ebbs and flows in participation numbers and wrestlers performing at a high level.
This past year, the varsity program achieved several goals, which included winning a dual meet, getting a top-10 finish in a tournament, and sending four wrestlers to the OSAA State Tournament, all things that have not happened in the past 10 years.
Added to those accomplishments, 10 of the 14 wrestlers posted grade point averages of 3.2 or better and the team was recognized by the officials for an OSAA Sportsmanship Award and Improvement, regardless of the outcome of the match.
“The kids worked so hard and have bought into our vision of success,” Beasley said. “We are so proud of the direction our program is going and we are definitely building on the past three seasons with our plan for the program.”
A major part of long-term prosperity is creating a family atmosphere, with the athletes forming lasting bonds and developing a blue-collar culture of working hard and earning the respect of their peers through positivity and citizenship.
Assistant coach Ryan Manciu saw the four state qualifiers Andrew Richman, JR Scott, Steven Preston and Austin Greene, exemplify those qualities over the years, which is the type of leadership that can bolster participation numbers.
“I’m so proud of them and how far they have come,” Manciu said. “It’s always hard to see our seniors go at the end of the wrestling season. This year’s seniors were a big part of our success. They pushed the others to work hard, be their best and set a good example. The whole team are like my own kids. I feel for them during their lows and highs, like any parent would. These kids have worked hard and I’m so proud of each and every one of them.”
On paper, Beasley is the head coach, but he is surrounded by a quality staff of Manciu, Mark Scott, Jacob Abrams and others who help bring the best out of the athletes.
Abrams, a former collegiate All-American, is also a key component in re-instituting an off-season freestyle wrestling program, another piece of the rebuilding, that TD hasn’t had in 10 years, so that wrestlers can stay sharp ahead of next winter.
“We are extremely excited about next year with Ryan, Jake, Alexander Kramer, Duncan Wilcox and John returning to coach a strong returning group of seniors, freshmen, and a large and promising group of incoming ninth graders. We hope our success this year will bring out more athletes, male and female, who want a challenge and to be part of our improving program.”
At state on Feb. 22-23 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, the four Riverhawk wrestlers combined to go 6-7, with three decision wins, one major decision and two pins.
In his 195-pound division, Scott, a two-time state placer, went 5-1 and scored 19 team points to place third, ending his final campaign at 37-7 with 24 pins to go with his 87-22 overall record and 64 pins.
Scott clinched a 4-0 decision in his opening bout to get off to a promising start.
In the quarterfinals, however, the senior had a 5-3 third-round lead on Crater’s Joseph Jordahl and tried for the pinfall victory, but Jordahl put Scott on his back to get the pin at the 5:50 mark.
Although his chance at a state crown was dashed, Scott had to bounce back in the consolation bracket.
“I just made one bad mistake and it cost me a shot at going to the championship,” Scott said. “I was both mad at and disappointed in myself for losing that match, but that’s wrestling. You think you have control and all it takes is a lack of focus to lose a match. So, yeah, I was sad that I lost. I wasn’t going to quit though. It was my senior year and I wanted to place as high as I could.”
Scott stormed back for back-to-back consolation victories, both by pins, against Crook County’s Colton Schlachter (57 seconds) and Dallas’ Cooper Hise (1:52), to move into the semifinals.
There, he picked up an 8-0 major decision versus Aiden Henderson (Pendleton).
One win away from third place, Scott left everything on the line in his grudge match with Owen Magill (Silverton), who had a 29-10 record entering the finale.
Scott battled tough for three rounds and scored a 6-0 decision.
“JR has had the goal of bringing a state championship to The Dalles since middle school,” Beasley said. “He was devastated to lose in the quarterfinals and end his dream, but he refocused, adjusted his goal and wrestled as well as he has all year to crawl back through consolation to take third place in dominating fashion. I told him, with tears in my eyes, that I was prouder of him for persevering when others would have quit, than if he had won the title. It was an incredible feat of determination and plain guts.”
Greene (22-16 record) logged the team’s only other win in the 152-pound classification, as he notched a 7-4 decision over Ayden Kerrigan (Crater) in his opening match.
In the quarterfinals, Greene lost by pinfall at 44 seconds to Crescent Valley’s Legend Lamer (51-1 record), and then lost in the consolation round by pinfall at 2:15 of the second round versus Devon McIntire (West Albany.)
Greene scored a win and was able to soak in a positive two-day experience at the state level, so it was a win-win in his book.
“It was a great season,” Greene said. “I had a great time with my teammates and coaches. They really pushed me to be the best I could be. State was a great experience that I will forever cherish. This program will be known real soon, especially with the way the program is going.”
At 138 pounds, Richman (21-13 record), a senior, suffered a pinfall defeat at 43 seconds against Osric White (Milwaukie) and he lost his second match to Tucker Drummond (Lebanon), by a 9-0 major decision.
Steven Preston (26-11) endured the same fate as Richman, with a first-round pinfall loss at the 3:12 mark against Lebanon’s Chase Miller (51-7) and was eliminated from contention following a consolation loss by pin against Jesse Cayo (Eagle Point) in the third round (4:55).
“Steven and Andrew had incredibly difficult draws in their first matches against seeded opponents,” Beasley said. “They both fought their tails off, but did not prevail. I was proud of how they battled and how they represented our program with pride and dignity.”
With those finishes, The Dalles totaled 21 points to finish in a tie for 19th place with Churchill, besting Hood River Valley and St. Helens, who each tallied 18 points for an 18th place tie, out of 30 teams.
Last August, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released its High School Participation Survey, and the sport of wrestling has grown in all five categories reported.
Boys high school wrestling remained the No. 7 sport among boys on the high school level in terms of participants, and the No. 8 sport for boys in terms of number of schools.
This marks a change in the trend for boys wrestling on the high school level, which had seen declines in the number of participants for six straight years.
The combined number of high school wrestlers, including both boys and girls, grew to 262,126, an increase of 2,735 athletes.
Scott envisions even more growth from his former teammates, and knows that the best is yet to come for The Dalles wrestling.
“Wrestling has given me so much in life. Things that you can’t get from a book or in a classroom,” Scott said. “I am a better wrestler and student because of this sport that I love. It was an awesome experience and I hope that more kids will be coming up to take part in a rewarding sport.
“I am excited about the future and I know there will be more champions here for sure.”