Travis Hughes spent 21 years helping Mt. Spokane wrestlers better themselves on and off the mat, shaping multiple young men and turning the Wildcats into a feared opponent statewide.
The system he established over two decades altered the trajectory of Wildcats wrestling. He took a fledgling program that struggled to gain a foothold in the competitive Greater Spokane League – one that was battered for a while by its noisy district neighbor Mead – to a power that won three consecutive State 3A titles.
On the heels of that third championship, Hughes reflected on his tenure as well as his availability as a father and husband.
After 21 years of two families jockeying for his attention, Hughes knew it was time to set aside his head coaching duties and to let someone else raise his wrestling family.
“This program is like one of my own children,” Hughes said. “I really care about it. So, I would not have handed it over to just anybody.”
That allowed his focus to shift toward his wife and kids.
The constant struggle between feeling guilty about not spending enough time on the mats and guilty about not being present at home was coming to an end.
Eventually, he realized that he wanted to drive his son to his wrestling tournament one day and spend the next day watching his daughter at a gymnastics meet or on the soccer pitch. On top of that, he has a 4-year-old who needed shuttling to and from day care and demands plenty of attention at home.
“I was starting to really want to do more of one than the other,” Hughes said.
The years of memories have stacked up – some of his life’s best memories – helping ease the transition out of the head coaching sphere and into an advisory role as an assistant.
But Hughes the assistant coach doesn’t feel the same attachment to the successes or failures of the Wildcats wrestlers as he did as the head man.
Nor does he feel that he is a part of the head coaching fraternity of the GSL anymore.
“It’s kind of a club when you talk to them, and they were some of the people I enjoyed talking to the most, and now I guess I just have to do that with all the assistant coaches,” Hughes said .
Hughes said the COVID-19 pandemic probably accelerated his decision, but the plan to slide into more of a helper role has been coming for the past few years. What helped him reach that conclusion was when a student teacher was assigned to Mt. Spokane in 2018 who wanted to coach.
Fortunately for Hughes, that student teacher yearned to coach wrestling.
Jacob Fry, a University High School graduate, earned his master’s at Whitworth. He wrestled in high school and went to California Baptist University to continue wrestling .
“He was the obvious choice,” Hughes said.
“He was the guy who wanted to do it and he’s capable of doing it. He wants to be a coach. He looks the part. He’s a big fit guy. He’s good at training kids physically.”
If Fry hadn’t found his way to Mt. Spokane, Hughes said it’s likely he would still be heading the defending state champs.
Fry has coached the Wildcats to a 5-0 record this season. He missed Wednesday’s 63-18 win over North Central in COVID protocol but was expected back for Thursday’s pivotal matchup against rival Mead (6-0) in the annual “Glow-Down Throw-Down” at Mt. Spokane.
For the fans, the dual meet against the Panthers is staged as the largest regular-season contest of the season.
But Hughes and Fry have structured their athletes’ mindset to think of the matchup as no different than any other. Fry specifically wants his wrestlers to use it as insight for the state tournament.
With the cancellations of multiple duals and meets this season, Mt. Spokane just wants to wrestle, needing as much time on the mats as it can garner after an exodus of talent during the offseason.
The core group of athletes that helped procure three state titles in three seasons graduated, leaving behind eight wrestlers with a decent amount of varsity experience. While wrestling is an individual sport – with one competitor versus another in the circle – teams rely on complete squads to win in the postseason.
That’s what Fry gets to grapple with this season and the seasons ahead – constructing a roster with enough athletes to contend at the highest level.
Mt. Spokane slogged through winless seasons at the beginning of Hughes’ tenure as the Wildcats ground out season after season, trying to build a program that would compete with anyone in the state. More turnout was needed in the early 2000s and Fry echoed that opinion for this season and the seasons to come – he needs a larger pool of wrestlers to round out his roster.
“We have to get more kids willing to try out the sport – more kids who aren’t scared of hard work, aren’t scared of fatigue, aren’t scared of losing,” Fry said.
“That’s the start there and then you can build on an already winning culture.”
Persuading boys to wrestle rather than play basketball or join a club at school is not easy, Fry said.
But he also said wrestling gives more applicable life skills than any other option.
“Wrestling is just a means to an end,” Fry said. “Wrestling is a tool that shapes young men into future husbands and fathers and leaders in our community.”