A young group of Shadle Park wrestling coaches embarked on a plan.
“When I got into head coaching my idea was to just create an environment where kids could be successful – have fun, work hard and ultimately to improve every day,” said Highlanders coach Shawn Howard a couple weeks ago.
He engaged ex-Central Valley wrestler Kyle Bush and 1999 Rogers state champion Ben Houk to help and over the course of three years established Shadle Park as a team to reckon with.
During State 3A competition at Mat Classic XXII in Tacoma last weekend, Shadle capped its most successful year in memory by placing fourth and finishing 14th with 42.5 points.
The Highlanders had arrived at state as the champion of a tough eastern region. They had tied for third with a 7-3 in the Greater Spokane League. They qualified what Howard believes was a school record 10 wrestlers to that regional and advanced six to state.
Junior Darren Bunke became a rare school repeat placer, finishing fifth for the second straight year at 130 pounds. Senior Derek Entz, after losing in the quarterfinals at 135 pounds, won four straight matches to place third, one of the highest finishes in school history.
Howard graduated from Shadle in 1996. He and Houk, an electrician, wrestled “a little” at Yakima Valley College and Bush, a counselor who splits his time between Lewis and Clark and Shadle, competed at Central Washington University.
“For some reason we all kind of found each other,” said Howard.
And under the ambitious young coaches, Shadle became a wrestling factor in a tough league.
“Look at North Central and what they’ve done over last few years. They’re really tough,” said Howard. “We’ve brought up our level, too.”
NC finished third at state last weekend sending four to the finals and scoring 124.5 points. Of the two schools’ 12 qualifiers, six return. The future for both schools is bright.
Rogers’ senior 112-pounder Vang Lor finished third. He reached the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Jake Velarde, from North Kitsap, but came back with two more wins.