A special day for the Patriots’ wrestling team

Photo by Jay W. Bennett Parkersburg South’s Luke Martin grapples with Parkersburg’s John Martin Best during their 138-pound state title match Saturday in Huntington. Martin won his third individual title with a 12-2 major decision over the Big Red. The senior was one of six champions the Patriots crowned during the evening session.

Parkersburg High School casts a towering, sometimes inescapable shadow over the other schools in the area, especially when it comes to sports.

The School of Champions isn’t just a nickname, it is a way of life all Big Reds take pride in. PHS teams have accumulated enough state championships to sit comfortably on top of the mountain when it comes to total tallies in many sports, throughout the school’s century of existence.

This shade has affected one school more particularly than others over the last 51 years – Parkersburg South.

Many times Patriot athletic programs would reach the apex of the Class AAA sports world only to see a flag with a big white P on a red background waving almost mockingly at them on the summit, almost as if to say “What took you so long?”

Needless to say, there haven’t been a lot of “we did it first” moments for what some would call the little brother high school of the city. How could there be when your main rival has been around 50 years longer than you?

Yet, there was one sport in particular the Patriot athletes took to faster then all the rest in 1967. Rod Oldham started what at the time he couldn’t have known would be a wrestling program that has grown to rival the likes of the mighty Big Reds.

It was a rough beginning with South and Tridelphia finishing in a tie for 20th place during the Patriots’ first trip to the state tournament back in ’69. But the legendary head coach wasn’t easily deterred, and the Patriots kept working hard. Perserverance and an unwilligness to give up finally paid off for Oldham and company when they captured the program’s first team title over John Marshall in 1975.

Patriot grapplers then continued the programs upward trajectory over the next 50 years following the first championship with 20 more titles. Their achievements helped to lay the foundation for a much treasured moment Saturday night at the W.Va. High School State Wrestling Championships at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.

Blue and white with a touch of red matmen raised the state championship trophy and became the first group to pass the Big Reds for cumulative team state titles with their 22nd championship after their 152-point win over runner-up Huntington.

In dominant South fashion the past few years, head coach Shaun Smith’s squad wrapped up the title early after Zane Hinzman’s 4-3 semifinal win over Greenbrier East’s Jacob Hefner Friday night.

The feat especially lies close to Smith’s heart.

“It is a great feeling,” said the man who captured the 140 lbs. state title for the Patriots back in 2004. “It is a tremendous accomplishment because I grew up watching South wrestling and I was able to be part of the program – first as a wrestler, then was even more lucky to be an assistant coach and then where I am now. It means everything because this is what you want and work toward.”

Smith crowned 6 individual champions (another school record) on the way to the school’s third four-peat in the sport. Tim McCartney (1999-2002) and Paul E. Jackson (2009-2012) are the only other coaches to achieve the feat.

Another chapter in the history books waits to possibly be written next season when the Patriots go for the school’s first five-peat and with 21 returning grapplers, including four state champions, two runner-ups and three more state placers, their chances are looking good.

Some distance could form between PHS and South in the following campaigns too, as the Patriots add reinforcements from 2018 Wood County Middle School tournament champion Edison and runner-up Blennerhassett.

Team history wasn’t the only thing up for grabs Saturday. The Patriot leader claimed a bit of school history for himself. Smith now stands as the only head coach to lead the squad to a trio of titles his first three years on the job. To think there were people who didn’t think he was the right man for the job three years ago now looks silly in hindsight.

Call it vindication Shaun.

It is an achievement hard to accomplish when you consider athletes need to make adjustments to new coaching styles and new expectations of them in a short period of time.

A credit he was more than willing to give to the athletes as having made.

“Without them we wouldn’t have been able to be in this situation to break the record,” Smith said of all the athletes to come through the program the last three seasons. “It is a testament to them as well. Hopefully they feel they are a part of this.”

Don’t forget about the kids on the team this season either.

“These kids have worked extremely hard all year,” said Smith. “And I am not always the easiest on them because I don’t want to see them fail. I want to give them my best so they can perform at their best.”

Now the Patriot grapplers finally stand undisputed at the top, with even greener pastures still to come in the future.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.