Getting a chance to return home to take over a legendary sports program might seem like a simple decision for some.
But for Ladd Rupp, when his hometown was in search of a new head coach to take over the historic Perry wrestling program, it wasn’t a quick decision due to what he was creating with the Cushing High wrestling program in Class 4A.
“It was a real tough decision,” Rupp said. “I think what made it so tough was we’d been treated so well at Cushing, me and my family. We’ve had a lot of support from the community, the staff and administrators and there have been good kids, good parents to work with. Ultimately, the choice just came down to moving closer to home and getting closer to our family.”
And so with Rupp’s return as the head coach, he returned the program to a tradition that had been held for nearly 70 years prior to the hiring of former coach Ronnie Delk. Once again, a product of the program will be at its helm.
“I’m very, very honored and flattered to be blessed with this opportunity, that’s for sure,” Rupp said. “I can remember going and watching high school duals in Perry when I was in grade school, thinking back then that it would be a dream come true to be the coach. It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time.”
It hasn’t just been the outreach from the Perry community that has made his transition back to his alma mater run smoothly.
Rupp credited Jared Miner, a Perry wrestling product who was an assistant coach under Delk and elected to remain on staff with Rupp. The presence of Miner has made it a little easier for the wrestlers to have a familiar face still on the coaching staff.
“I was very, very thankful that he wanted to stay,” Rupp said. “… He was there to bridge the gap between me and the boys. I think him being there provided that comfort level because you could see some of the guys wanting to ask me something, but they didn’t want to step on my toes, so they would go to him and he’d come to me so I could then approach the kids about it. Obviously, having him stay and already knowing the boys was great, but he’s also just a great coach.”
Rupp has been working with the team for nearly a month now, and recently took them to a team camp in Nebraska. Getting accustomed to what’s within the program will prove prudent for Rupp as the Maroons are looking to win the program’s 44th state championship.
“As far as the pressure, and the expectation, that Perry has, I think we welcome it,” Rupp said. “I think it’s good to keep us on our toes, and make sure we’re doing our job right and putting the right effort forward.”
However, reaching that goal will come with its difficulties.
Perry graduated five state medalists, including three state finalists – and one state champion in Hadyn Redus – with just five state qualifiers due back. The top returners from a year ago are expected to be juniors Ryan Smith, who won a state title at 113 pounds, Dylan Avery, who was a state champion at 132, and Gabe Valencia, who took third at 106.
“We took 18 kids to a team camp, and 10 of them were sophomores or younger, so it’s one of those things that they are going to have to mature,” Rupp said. “It’s on them. Obviously, we have those eight guys who are juniors or seniors and there will be a lot of weight on their shoulders, as well, but I think you’ve got to make sure we’re not focusing only on our older kids, and that we better make sure we’re providing growth for our younger kids.
“There’s just a lot of inexperience with our younger kids. So I think once we get them experience, get them in the room and working with them, I think a lot of people will see we are pretty well off. We have a lot of talent left in the room.”
Rupp’s wrestling pedigree
It’s been 10 years since Rupp wrestled for Perry High, meaning many of the wrestlers he will now be coaching would have just been entering elementary – or even younger.
The 2009 Perry High graduate may not be in the memory of those wrestlers in the room now, but he may have unknowingly been on their mind as one of the program’s most decorated wrestlers.
He is one of just three Maroon wrestlers to be crowned a four-time state champion – the others being Cecil Beisel (1975-78) and Ian Fisher (2007-10).
“In the wrestling room in Perry, they have all the individual state champions posted on the wall and obviously my name is on that wall, so I don’t think it was a secret to them that I had been there and had won some state titles there,” Rupp said. “When I introduced myself, I told them how I had been through the program, been through some of the same pains and same championships that they’ve gone through.
“So I just wanted to relate to them that I’ve been through what they are going through. That pressure, and those expectations, I’ve felt them and I’ve been in their shoes. So it was easier for them to relate to me, having known that.”
Rupp was the 2007 state tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler – one of just 14 Perry wrestlers to ever receive the honor – and held a 163-13 career record in high school. The .926 win percentage ranks seventh all-time in Perry’s program history and his 163 wins ranks third all-time. He is the program’s all-time leader in career falls with 106 – with the 33 pins in his senior season ranking second in program history for a single season (ranked first at the time, but was edged by Garrett Beier in 2015).
His time spent at Perry was under the watch of Hall of Fame coach Scott Chenoweth. And its his former high school coach who Rupp – and Miner – are wanting to duplicate once again the Perry wrestling room.
“(Coach Miner) and I both agreed that we’re wanting to bring a lot of that same stuff back that we had – the training style, the wrestling style that Coach Chenoweth coached into us,” Rupp said. “So I was glad he was on the same page as me as far as the direction we want the practices to be ran.”
Following his successful high school career, Rupp went to wrestle for another legendary wrestling coach at Oklahoma State, where he compiled a 15-3 official record with five falls and three major decisions – after compiling a 17-4 record during his redshirt year wrestling exclusively in open tournaments.
“I was able to learn a lot of technique under him, but I think the largest thing that I gained from him is what I had gained from Perry, as well,” Rupp said of his time under Cowboy wrestling coach John Smith. “There was just that attitude of never being satisfied. … Every day at practice in college, we were training to win a national title … so it was real comfortable for me, having come from the Perry program with those similar high expectations and go right into OSU and be coached with that same consistency.”
One of Rupp’s prep products is now on the Oklahoma State wrestling roster. Cushing native Wes Ahrberg redshirted for the Cowboys this past season and competed in open tournaments.
“I can remember going and watching high school duals in Perry when I was in grade school, thinking back then that it would be a dream come true to be the coach. It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time.”
Perry High wrestling coach