It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
In discussing his team's ninth-place performance at this past weekend's Class 6A state tournament on Monday, Lopez first said, "It's hard for me to ever really get excited because I'm kinda not built that way."
But however calm he chooses to remain as the main figure for the Black Tornado, sometimes getting carried away isn't in his control.
Courtesy of North Medford junior Trent Wilson, Lopez made a unique exit from the Memorial Coliseum's main stage on Saturday night in Portland when Wilson whisked his coach over his shoulder and jogged away following his 195-pound state championship match.
"It was fun," Lopez said of the impromptu ride. "It's better than walking."
For his part in the funny scene, Wilson said he was caught up in the moment after securing the first state championship for North Medford since the city split into two high schools in 1986. He also wanted to return the support that had been given to him all season by his first-year head coach, who came to Medford from Reedsport High.
"That was pretty neat," added Lopez. "The excitement of it all "¦ it was pretty special and I'm very proud of Trent. Not everyone gets a state championship but he really went out and got it. "
The state championship had been a long time coming for a North Medford program that has enjoyed state finalists and top-ranked threats over the years but never finished on top. To make it happen, Lopez said the key was in Wilson's preparation and flawless execution on the mat.
"That's a tournament where you can't make mistakes," said Lopez. "If you want to have a chance at being a state placer or earn individual or team titles, you just can't make mistakes anymore once you get there. That's one thing Trent did, he was loose and he was the one on the attack and he didn't make mistakes. He didn't get taken down once that whole tournament."
The second-seeded Wilson won his opening match in 51 seconds after earning a fall against Glencoe's Daniel Reyes-Hernandez. After a 12-7 win over McNary's Alvarro Venegas, he topped Roseburg's Will Reddekopp 5-2 in the semifinals.
In the championship match, Wilson opened a 5-0 lead en route to a 7-2 decision over West Linn senior Cameron Schmitz, who had already upset the Nos. 1 and 4 seeds.
While the Black Tornado of Medford High fame crowned 13 state champions prior to the split that produced North and South Medford high schools, ending the drought for North Medford's program had been a big carrot for its wrestlers in recent years.
Now with a title in hand, Lopez hopes North Medford's wrestling program can capitalize on Wilson's performance.
"I hope it shows people that we can get it done at North Medford and it gets people excited to be part of North Medford wrestling," said Lopez. "I think we have a good support system already but hopefully this will open up more. Anytime you're building a tradition at a school, people want to be part of it so you get more people coming out."
All six of the Black Tornado's state qualifiers are eligible to return next year. Besides Wilson, North Medford sophomore Henry Cox (third at 106) and junior Skyler Black (sixth at 220) also finished as state-placers. Sophomore Cole Hornbrook (138) finished one win shy of the placing rounds, while sophomore Caleb Dix (120) and junior Tristan Lindi (120) gained valuable tournament experience.
"We're a young team so I'm pretty excited about what's going to happen next year," said Lopez. "We're about to start our lifting and offseason wrestling so they're going to keep at it and we should be right up in the mix next year."
"We brought six kids to state this year and if we had any better luck, we could've battled for a trophy," he added.
As for Wilson, Lopez is confident that the junior standout will return as focused as ever for another run at a title next season.
"I told Trent that I want you to enjoy it but this season's over and you're a senior now," said Lopez. "You see a lot of guys win it and never win again, and you don't want to be in that situation. People are going to come after him even harder now and he's going to have to keep this momentum up and make sure he continues the steps he took to get this far and keep building off it."
"He's a pretty stubborn kid, though, so I think he'll want it again," added the coach. "Not being a one-time state champion but a two-time state champion sounds better, so I think he'll go for it."
Lopez was Reedsport's head coach in 2012 and during the 2005-2009 seasons, and the Braves earned three team trophies (second, third and fourth) under his watch. He was an assistant coach at Southwest Oregon Community College in Coos Bay in 2010 and 2011, with Reedsport finishing as state runner-up to Class 3A Burns in 2010.
The 1996 Reedsport High graduate wrestled for the Braves, SWOCC and at Southern Oregon before beginning his coaching career as an assistant at Willamette High from 1999-2003.
Of particular pride for Lopez, beyond Wilson's title, was the fact that his wrestlers finished third among the 6A wrestling programs in team GPA. Roseburg, which won its sixth team title in eight years this past weekend, tied Hillsboro for the top effort with a combined 3.52 GPA and North Medford was third (3.45).
"I'm really proud of that," said Lopez. "They were able to keep a pretty hard-paced workout schedule and go home and do their homework and maintain good grades, so that shows they can get it done on both sides."
AS A MATTER of record, Medford High's last wrestling state champion was Steve Singler, who won the 130-pound title in 1975, and its only two two-time state champions are Russell Smith, who won the title at 123 in 1964 and '65, and Henry Muller, who won at 275 in '65 and '66.
Also earning state championships for the Black Tornado prior to the split in 1986 were Wayne Fields (141 pounds, 1961), Chuck Shaw (191, 1961), Don Weter (136, 1962), Monte Jones (275, 1962), Jeff Hardrath (275, 1964), Dave Kalams (115, 1969), Rob Brown (148, 1969) and Jack Hewlett (115, 1974)
South Medford has been able to produce five state championships since the split, led by three-time champion Les Gutches, who won at 171 in 1989, at 178 in 1990 and at 191 in 1991. Jason Gutches won the 168-pound crown in 1994, while the Panthers' last championship was earned in 2000 by Ian Taylor at 215.
A BLACK TORNADO Wall of Fame has been in the works for a while now and North Medford athletic director Tim Sam announced recently that committee members are accepting applications for nominees.
All current Medford Sports Hall of Fame members, about 100 overall who played for the Black Tornado, will be grandfathered in as part of the first induction group, and Sam said the committee plans on inducting five to 12 people annually, except for years that the Medford Sports Hall of Fame has an induction.
This year's first group will be recognized at North Medford's Sept. 19 home football game against Roseburg. The 1959-60 triple crown state championship football, boys basketball and baseball teams will also be recognized at that time.
Categories for inductees include athlete, coach and special contributor.
Nomination forms can be found at www.medford.k12.or.us by clicking on "North Medford HS" and then by clicking "Athletics." Forms are also available at Baci's Pizza and Joe's Sports Grill on Roberts Road and at Cascade Athletic on Biddle Road. A list of inductees to be grandfathered in are listed on the back of the application, with all applications due to Sam by May 16.
A decision by the committee, which includes Larry Binney, Ralph Burrelle, Jim McAbee and Sam, is expected by June 20.
Sam said the committee is also accepting sponsors for the Wall of Fame banquet. Gold sponsorship ($2,000) helps cover costs of plaques to be mounted in the North Medford High gym lobby, and includes banner, program and table recognition. Silver sponsors ($1,000) help cover the cost of banquet meals for inductees, and includes program and table recognition. Bronze sponsorship ($500) helps cover the cost of the banquet facility (Rogue Valley Country Club), and includes program recognition.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry