HHS coach motivated wrestlers to win title
HUNTINGTON -- Huntington High's wrestling team had plenty of motivation going into the 66th West Virginia High School Wrestling Tournament at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
The Highlanders got an extra dose of incentive Friday morning when coach Rob Archer pulled out the letter his father Bill had written and read it to the team.
Bill started wrestling at (old) Huntington High in 1964 and was the school's first state champion. He later coached the Pony Express and one of the team members during that long run was Rob. Bill is now state tournament director as well as principal at Huntington St. Joe.
In the letter, Bill informed the current team the last team to win a state championship south of Parkersburg was Shady Spring in 1964. He noted no Cabell County team had ever won a football or wrestling title since the playoffs began in the Mountain State. Wrestlers know there are 14 individual titles up for grabs, but there is only one team champion.
For Archer, this was the 45th state tournament he'd been involved with Huntington High. Twice, the Highlanders have finished second. Region 1 teams have won all the titles since 1976 when West Virginia went to two classes except for 1998 when Region 2's North Marion prevailed.
"You do not get many chances in your life to have the words first and only tagged to something that you do," he wrote. "We need all the champs, placers and pins that we can get. It's going to be very close for the team title. You must win it with your shape and never giving up. I have seen 44 state tournaments and while the finalist and semifinalist are important, the team title is often won by the wrestler who loses and comes back for the team and scores a bunch of points.
"I have watched you win two titles the last few weeks and both times I have seen someone who lost standing outside of the team picture, upset that they have lost. This is not the attitude that will work this weekend. You must all work together. If you get beat, you must come back and score points Friday night and Saturday morning.
"If you think about your young life many of the days run together and not much meaningful happens on most days. You will remember what happens these 3 days for the rest of your life. Never give up." Old Coach Archer.
Rob said the already focused Highlanders got the drift of the his dad's message.
"I think it paid off," he said.
Indeed it did. Huntington, which had been ranked No. 1 in Class AAA all season, won the Region 4 title and qualified all 14 wrestlers for the state. In the end, 10 placed -- the higest total in that class. Three won titles and that effort helped the Highlanders pile up 200 points to win the first state championship in school and validate the season-long voting by his peers. Parkersburg was second and Parkersburg South third. The Patriots did not have a wrestler in the finals and came up short in their bid for a record fifth straight Class AAA crown.
Huntington fans broke out championship T-shirts well before the finals ended. Rob said it took many years of work to make that moment possible.
"It's like building a pyramid," he said. "You think about all the people it took over the years to do it. All the guys (coaches, assistants, boosters and fans) played such a big role. It was one barrier at a time."
Huntington's champs were Logan Grass (106), Jordan Allen (113) and Justin Arthur (145). Johnathan Spence took second at 120. One of the big moments for Archer came in the consolation finals when Billy Waldeck pinned Wheeling Park's Dylan Taylor at 138 to clinch the team title.
"That's a moment I'll never forget," Archer said.
Then there's Spence, who after the WSAZ Invitational dropped from 126 to 120 to fill the void left by the departure of Jarred Simpkins. He'd been 1-5 in wrestle-offs before settling at the new weight. Until the title match, he'd lost just once.
"He just kept coming back," Archer said. "You have to root for a guy like that."
Earlier Saturday, Huntington fans learned via e-mail from Brent Sams in Parkersburg that if the Highlanders did win, it would not be the school's first state title. He did research of microfilm at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, yearbooks and from the book "The Emergence of High School Wrestling in West Virginia" by George Nedeff.
Huntington was declared "State Mat Champions" in 1922, the first year that high school wrestling took place in West Virginia. Parkersburg and Morgantown compted in the first state match and Parkersburg won, 11-6. Huntington later defeated Parkersburg in all six matches and got the title over Morgantown.
Arthur became Huntington's second three-time champion. The first was Justin Riggs. Arthur, who'll continue to wrestle in college at Clarion University, said a third-place finish his sophomore year made him even more determined.
"I didn't get it done. I didn't want to experience that feeling again," he said. "We've had chances in the past to win, but came up short. This time we responded."