Dutton Award goes to Independence’s Adams

Independence wrestler Noah Adams is all smiles as he reacts to fans and family in the stands after winning a state championship in the 220-pound weight class against Wirt's Mike Burns at the 70th Annual WVSSAC State Wrestling Tournament Saturday night at the Big Sandy Arena in Huntington. Photo courtesy of Brad Davis, The Register-Herald.

BECKLEY — It was far from the defining moment of Noah Adams’ high school career. But in his mind and in the mind of his coach, it just might have been the turning point.

By now all state wrestling fans know the story. Once thought of as a sure-fire four-time state champion, Adams instead saw that dream vanquished when he was disqualified because of an illegal slam in a state quarterfinal match his sophomore year.

Adams bounced back – his next four opponents felt his wrath. He won his four consolation matches by pinfall to emphatically take a third-place finish.

Nothing stopped him after that. Two more state championships. Six All-Americas. Two gold medals.

The ability to accomplish all those things was already there. But if any extra motivation was needed, it was provided by that turn of events on Feb. 27, 2015.

“I’ve always said adversity, if you fight through it, only makes you tougher,” Independence coach Cliff Warden said. “I sort of believe that he wouldn’t have been in such hot pursuit of national titles or go to Peru had he won his sophomore year. It was something that happened that was awful. Nothing he could do to get four state titles. But he’s none the less for it, and he made up for it with national titles.

“I don’t know if his mind set would have been the same had he not paddled through that.”

Adams, whose focus and desire never seem to be compromised, confirmed his coach’s suspicions.

“My sophomore year, I had won (a state title) once and I think my head was getting a little bit big, that I wasn’t training as hard toward the end of the year,” Adams said.

“When I broke my ankle (prior to the state tournament), and after all that had happened, (Warden) and (assistants) David (Hart) and Jeremy Hart got in my ear and said, ‘You’ve got to make up for it with national titles.’ I started working a lot harder.”

The rest, of course, is history. Adams lost only one more high school match the rest of the way en route to becoming the most decorated wrestler ever at Independence.

Now, Adams goes out with one last high school honor. He has been voted the winner of the 2017 Robert Dutton Award, given annually to West Virginia’s best prep wrestler by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

Adams joins Jeremy Hart (1996) as the only southern West Virginians to win the award, which was first awarded to Dave Miller of Parkersburg South in 1985. It is named for legendary Parkersburg coach Robert Dutton, who led the Big Reds from 1957-76, and is a charter member of the West Virginia chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“As much as you achieve, you always want to keep achieving more,” Adams said. “That was one of my major goals that I had throughout my whole high school career, was to keep going and be the best in the state.”

Adams didn’t need a big senior season to put himself into the Dutton conversation. That discussion always began with the West Virginia University signee, even before the season started.

He was already highly accomplished, winning All-America honors at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach, the FloNationals in Indiana and the Junior Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D.

Last July, Adams was selected to wrestle for the United States Cadet Team at the Pan Am Championships in Lima, Peru. He was unscored upon and won gold medals in both Greco-Roman and freestyle.

The word was officially out.

After the high school season started, Adams was only challenged at the nationally recognized Powerade Nationals in Pennsylvania. He still came away with a 220-pound championship and was never again threatened.

His win over Wirt County’s Mike Burns in the 220-pound state title match gave him a 39-0 season record and finished him at 183-7 for his career.

Adams, who loves Chinese buffets and recently began playing the guitar, leaves his own legacy at Independence. But he’s also part of something bigger – the Patriots have won four consecutive Class AA team championships and show no sign of slowing down.

“It means everything to me, honestly,” Adams said, “because I know me and the rest of the team have put in a lot of hard work. All those awards add up and keep showing how much work we’ve put in.”

Adams started wrestling with the Young Guns youth wrestling team when he was 9 and admits to being “pouty” when he didn’t win.

“I had seen him at a young age when he first started,” Warden said. “You don’t really study them when they’re that age. You watch a little bit and then you talk to other people, the youth coaches when you’re in the room (about) what kind of work ethic. But even at that young age you could see there was some raw talent there.”

Adams verbally committed to Virginia Tech as a junior, but a few months later changed his commitment to the Mountaineers. After his gold medal wins in Peru, there was speculation that he might reopen his recruitment, but that didn’t happen.

“It’s not only a way to excel athletically, but academically as well,” Adams said. “That’s helping pay for my education and that’s the ultimate goal, really.

“It’s something that will set you up for life.”

Adams’ teammate, Jacob Hart, was runner-up. Last month, Hart became the only wrestler in Independence history to win four state championships.

He also beat out another four-time state champ in Parkersburg South’s Justin Allman and St. Albans’ Josh Humphreys.

Adams will receive the Dutton Award – sponsored by the Parkersburg News and Sentinel – at the 71st annual Victory Awards Dinner at 4 p.m. on May 21 at Village Square Conference Center in Clarksburg.