Stillwater News Press

March 7, 2014

Orange Prattle: Putting Stillwater wrestling’s state victory into context

By Jason Elmquist
Stillwater News Press

STILLWATER, Okla. — The Stillwater High wrestling team should cherish the moment they shared Saturday at the State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

In the 93rd OSSAA state wrestling tournament, they won the program’s eighth state championship dating back to 1922 — where Stillwater shared the state’s first championship with Altus before winning back-to-back solo state trophies.

Not many great teams or great athletes can stake claim to a team title — both here and across the country.

In fact, one of the most storied wrestlers from the Stillwater area never once earned a team championship.

Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, six-time World Champion and two-time NCAA champion, never felt the pleasure of wrestling for a championship team — in fact OSU won back-to-back national titles after he graduated in 1988.

He did go on to coach five Oklahoma State squads to national championships — including four straight from 2003-06. But when asked about Stillwater’s performance at the state meet, he brought up the one title that eluded him during his wrestling career going back to his high school days at Del City.

“Not many people get a chance to be a part of a championship team. In my whole career, I was never part of a championship team — from high school all the way through college and even at the Worlds or Olympics,” Smith said. “I never was on a championship team. That’s one thing I missed.”

Seeing Stillwater win its first team title since 1970 was just as gratifying for the Cowboy coach, though. His oldest son Joe was one of five individual champions that paced the Pioneers.

“That’s why I’m excited. I’m just a dad getting to watch his son,” the wrestling legend said. “I knew it was important to him to win the team title. It was probably more important to him to win the team title than it was his own title.”

That’s how significant Saturday’s moment was for not only the Stillwater High wrestling program, but for wrestling in the community.

Four-time state champion and reigning NCAA champion Chris Perry, a cousin of Joe Smith, was a part of a SHS squad that nearly brought an end to the program’s 43-year title drought.

“To see those guys get this done, for me, it’s a pride thing,” Perry said. “This town needed something like that to spark wrestling in high school. I was amazed with how many fans came out to support them down there.”

In Perry’s freshman year at Stillwater, the Pioneers fell 6.5 points behind Ponca City — despite having four state champions, while the Wildcats had just one. Besides several individual champions — including three more from Perry — the closest Stillwater came to repeating that feat was in 2012 when the Pioneers finished third, a distant 40 points behind state champion Broken Arrow, with state championships from Smith along with Paul Wilson and Travis Morgan.

That’s just how hard it is to win a championship in any sport, at any level.

These Pioneers won’t be satisfied with winning the program’s first championship in over 40 years, however. Just as they weren’t satisfied after finishing as runner-up to Broken Arrow in the dual state championship.

Chandler Rogers — a transfer from Washington where he won three state titles and will join the Oklahoma State wrestling program next year as a four-time state champion — and Benny Teegarden are the only graduating members who qualified for the state meet.

It’s possible, with four juniors — each of whom placed at state — a sophomore state champion in Andrew Nieman and a freshman fourth-place finisher in Tyler Dieringer, that Stillwater could make even more history come next year. Win back-to-back state championships for just the third time in program history.

But for now, the Stillwater community should cherish what this group of Pioneer wrestlers has accomplished. Something a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a four-time state champion and 42 Stillwater High wrestling teams before them fell short of — collective greatness.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.