It’s easy to understand Terrence McKinney’s reluctance to turn out for wrestling, considering he was a tiny freshman assimilating into the larger, scarier world of high school.
“I thought it was harder,” McKinney recalled of that first year at Shadle Park, worrying he would be squaring off against older, more experienced teammates.
But wrestling is haven for youngsters whose lack of size, unlike in other sports, is no obstacle to athletic success.
Coach Shawn Howard cornered McKinney on, of all places, the football field and eventually persuaded him to turn out.
Last year, as a junior, McKinney lost one match en route to the 126-pound State 3A championship.
“I went up to him and said, ‘I heard you are a real wrestler,’ ” Howard recalled. “He said, ‘Oh, yeah I’ve wrestled a little bit before, but I don’t think I’m wrestling this year.’ I told him, ‘I sure would love to have you on the team.’ ”
Howard bugged him in the halls until McKinney acquiesced. He discovered that his fears were unfounded.
“I didn’t get pinned or nothing,” he said. He imagined what he could become with hard work: “By the end of the season I was beating people.”
His second season, McKinney said, he put in the necessary work and placed third in state.
Last year he was dominant. Howard estimates he approached 30 pins during the season.
“He has been unlike any kid I’ve come across,” said Howard, a former Highlander wrestler. “The kid has more desire to win in wrestling than anyone I’ve ever seen. He just has this really, really big desire to be a great wrestler.”
McKinney’s focus is simple. He said he wrestles every match like it is his last. He’s up to 138 pounds this year, and apart from winning a second state title, his long term goals are to win a national summer freestyle tournament and compete in college.
McKinney’s progression has coincided with Shadle Park’s. Each year the Highlanders have improved at state. They were seventh as a team in 2011. Last year, a rare one-two finish in the same weight by teammates McKinney and senior Caleb Burger spearheaded Shadle’s fourth place trophy effort.
That is a story in itself.
Burger wrestled the Greater Spokane League season up a weight for obvious reasons. In the state-qualifying regional he reversed a loss the previous week to reach state. Once there he was a surprising finalist, losing to his teammate for the title.
“Terrence said the whole season that Caleb would be in the finals,” Howard said. “He was dead serious.”
McKinney said he felt his practice partner was going to catch up because Burger was stronger than most of the wrestlers he faced during the year.
Shadle’s state champion quickly pinned his teammate in the 126-pound title match, but their combined points propelled the Highlanders to their highest finish since the 1960s.
Howard is the latest young coach to orchestrate a wrestling revival. Luke Leifer did so at North Central, where the Indians were third and fifth at state in 2010 and ’11, respectively.
Last year, Martin Mitchell, just 11 seasons removed from the last of his four state titles at Tonasket, took Rogers to a 4-5 finish, its best GSL dual season in years.
Their schools haven’t had the feeder programs of the league powers, Howard said, but this year Shadle has 80 wrestlers out. It was a matter of Howard making a connection with kids outside the wrestling room.
He had always looked up to coaches when he was in high school, the 1996 Highlanders graduate said. He began helping at his school the following year and is in his sixth year at the helm.
“I always thought the greatest honor was that you’d be a coach someday,” he said.
“One of the things I noticed was that all the coaches are passionate about kids. You have to make a connection in the classroom and not think of them as just a wrestler.”
He connected with McKinney when Terrence was a freshman. Within three years he had become a wrestling state champion.
|2. Central Valley|
|4. Mt. Spokane|
|5. North Central|
|6. Shadle Park|
|9. Lewis and Clark|
|10. Gonzaga Prep|
|2. Post Falls|
|3. Coeur d’Alene|
|4. Lake City|
|1. Deer Park|
|3. East Valley|
|5. West Valley|
|5. Medical Lake|
|7. Kettle Falls|