HUNTINGTON - In a season of firsts for Huntington High wrestling, the program has chalked up another one even though the season ended three weeks ago.
Justin Arthur, Class AAA state champion at 145 pounds for the Highlanders, is the recipient of the 2013 Robert Dutton Award which goes to the top high school wrestler in West Virginia. It's the first time a Huntington High (old/new school) wrestler has won the award named in honor of legendary Parkersburg coach Robert Dutton. He coached the Big Reds from 1957 to 1976.
Arthur finished ahead of Parkersburg's Jared Haught and George Washington's Jake Smith in voting by a statewide panel for the 29th award. Arthur, who will continue his wrestling career at Clarion University, will receive the award at the Victory Awards Dinner scheduled May 5 in Clarksburg.
"He's a heck of a kid. He set the tone for us all season," Huntington High coach Rob Archer said. "The way he works, the way he learns. It's not an act. What you see is what you get from him every day."
Arthur finished 30-2 this season with both losses coming against Chris Vassar of Cedar Cliff at the Powerade Invitational. Arthur placed fourth overall. Vassar went on to finish runner-up at 145 in Class AAA in the PIAA state tournament in Hershey, Pa.
Huntington High started the 2012-13 ranked No. 1 in the West Virginia Coaches Association poll and stayed there. The Highlanders beat four-time defending state champion Parkersburg South in a dual on Feb. 7 at Huntington High. Two weeks later, the Highlanders went through the Class AAA opposition again and won the state title for the first time in school history. Arthur shared Outstanding Wrestler in Class AAA with Ripley's Jake Martin, champion at 138.
"I thought it was a dream come true at the end of the state," Arthur said. "This is a great wakeup call to remember what I did and what the team did."
Arthur, a three-time state champion, entered his senior season on a personal roll. Last March, he won the title at 138 in the National High School Championships in Virginia Beach, Va. In May, he won the Greco title and placed fourth in freestyle at 152 at the USA Wrestling Northeast Region Championships in Bloomsburg, Pa. He capped off the big off-season in July at the USA Wrestling Cadet/Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. Competing at 138, he finished sixth in Junior freestyle to earn All-American honors.
"That's where kids separate themselves," Archer said of the Cadet/Junior Nationals. "It shows what you can do on the national level. You're on the radar."
As a freshman, Arthur went 39-3 and won the state at 119. A year later, he had to settle for third at 130. He lost to senior Kyle Bauer of Wheeling Park in the semifinals. That was the wakeup call in a 33-8 season.
"That was a turning point for him," Archer said. "He had a lot of talent and competitive fire. He continued to work on those skills and that fire. He wanted to be great. That's what made him a good all-around wrestler."
"Everything I've done makes up for that loss my sophomore year," Arthur said. "It left a little pit in my stomach. It was a motivator. I didn't want to go through that again. I won my freshman year, I think I can win again. I got caught. A senior got hold of me. I learned."
Arthur admitted it was difficult watching other teams, mainly Parkersburg South or Parkersburg, leave town with the Class AAA title each year. Even though the Highlanders finished No. 1 in the poll and won the Region IV title, Arthur took nothing for granted when his final state tournament began.
"Every year you look at somebody else. We still had to prove ourselves," Arthur said. "I think we can be a factor from here on."
Archer knows all about college wrestling as he enjoyed four years at Ohio State. He believes Arthur has what it takes to succeed on the next level.
"If he keeps the intensity level up, I think he can handle it," Archer said. "The goals never change. He wants to be a national champion. He's been there enough. He's ready for the next hurdle."
Archer said he enjoyed the family atmosphere at Huntington High. He said he got the same feeling about Clarion when he made his visit. Wrestling is the only Division I sport at the Pennsylvania school.
"Everybody there loves it," Arthur said. "It's the next level. There'll be a lot of power. I have to get mean and physical. No more dancing around."