Written by Steve McCullough, Tonasket School District
What does it mean to be a champion? Is it winning, is it being recognized by others for your accomplishments, or is it something else? Recently the Tonasket High School wrestling team won its third straight state championship, and as I write this article, 16 Tonasket athletes traveled to Las Vegas to compete at the Western Regionals Wrestling Tournament where they wrestled all three styles of wrestling (Folkstyle, Freestyle and Greco Roman each recognized as a different sport). Several coaches traveled to assist with coaching including several not involved with high school and middle school coaching. Some of the best wrestlers in the nation compete at this tournament annually. What a truly incredible feat for our Tonasket wrestlers! What is even more awe-inspiring, however, is how they achieve these accomplishments and remain true champions whether they win another state title or not.
When you watch Tonasket wrestling you will see several key factors. First, the program is not focused on winning. You rarely hear coaches, athletes, or parents talk about winning. When asked about the program, they all talk about the character and hard work and team focus that makes up Tonasket wrestling. My college football coach, Frosty Westering, (NAIA record for most wins and 9th in wins for all college football coaches) often said that “Winning is a byproduct” and “You only are competing against your best self.” Tonasket wrestling exemplifies these concepts. They recognize that by focusing on the things they can control, their own preparation, effort, and attitude. They are consistently “winning” in terms of becoming young men and women of character.
Second, the coaches at Tonasket High School are active in the wrestling program from birth through high school. They have built a program where the principles and skills are taught consistently in all of the wrestling programs in our community. The coaches and parents at the high school level are intimately involved in these programs. You see people from all walks of life involved in a positive manner in the program. The character attributes taught to the students are also expected by parents and if you step out of line, the expectations are so clear that spectators in the stands will step in to redirect folks before coaches or administration ever need to intervene.
Third, the success of the past is continuing even with a change in leadership. Our past wrestling coach, Dave Mitchell has been recognized not only by our state but also nationally for his coaching skills. Cole Denison took the program over when Dave retired and the wrestling program has not missed a beat. The most effective leaders build capacity in those around them to continue with the vision of the program. Dave did this masterfully.
Finally, past wrestlers are consistently active in the program and often comment on how important the wrestling was to their success as a person. Communities fund extra-curricular programs because of how essential these activities are to the development of the young men and women. Winning is great, but this is the real reason for these programs. The skills of teamwork, determination, integrity, dealing with hardship, and much more is taught through these activities in a way that the regular classroom setting does not accomplish. I want to thank all of you who have made the Tonasket wrestling program one that exemplifies true champions!