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Perry wrestling program among the nation’s elite

Perry_wrestling_2011 
Shown above is the 2011 state championship Perry squad. 

By John Gillis 

With a national-record 38 state wrestling championships since 1955, it’s easy to understand why the Perry (Oklahoma) High School wrestling program is considered to be among the nation’s elite.

Perhaps even more remarkably, since 1961 Perry has never gone more than two years without winning a state title, which means that every senior class during the past 51 years has been part of at least one state championship team.

The school won 11 consecutive state titles from 1971 to 1981, which is tied for ninth all time, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ online multimedia National High School Sports Record Book. In addition, the Maroons reeled off eight straight state titles from 2004 to 2011. Perry also has 12 state runner-up finishes, which gives it 50 top-two placements since 1952.

With a community population of just 5,126 (2010 census) and a school enrollment of just 308 students in grades 9-12, the program certainly can’t point to the luxury of a large pool of numbers as the reason for its success. However, what it might lack in quantity, the Perry wrestling program more than makes up for in quality.

Although Perry generally competes against schools in larger enrollment classifications, it has compiled an all-time dual meet record of 883-302-16, which works out to a 74.2 winning percentage. That victory total ranks Perry No. 3 on the all-time national list. In addition, 159 individual state championships have been won by Perry wrestlers.

However, the true story of Perry’s success goes way beyond an incredible number of state titles, a prodigious all-time victory total, and a winning percentage that equates to victory three out of every four times the team sets foot on the mat. Rather, it has much more to do with the coaches and the athletes who built and now sustain this remarkable program.

As with any organization, a high school wrestling program needs a strong leader to drive it to success, and Perry’s coaching staff over the years has been more than up to that task. Amazingly, a Perry alumnus has been the head coach of the wrestling program 87 of the 90 years it has fielded a team, including a streak of 80 consecutive years from 1932 to 2011.

 Perry_wrestling_coaches 
 Shown above are the seven most recent Perry wrestling
coaches: first row – sitting (L to R): Ronnie Delk,
Scott Chenoweth; second row – standing (L to R): Leonard Shelton,
Fred Waltermire, Rex Edgar, Terry Leonard, Steve Randall.
 

The godfather of this remarkable coaching fraternity was Frank Briscoe, who started the program in 1922-23. He was succeeded by Kenneth Coldiron, who was in turn succeeded by Uel Leach. John Divine took over the program during the 1931-32 season and coached the Maroons for the next 30 years. From 1962 to 1969, Rex Edgar led Perry to six state titles. Leonard Shelton coached the Maroons on two different occasions ‑ from 1970 to 1979 and then in 1995. Although there only two seasons (1980 and 1981), Terry Leonard made the most of them as he led Perry to state titles both years.

Similar to Shelton, Fred Waltermire had two Perry coaching stints – 1982-83 and 1991 to 1994, winning two state championships and one dual state title. Steve Randall, who was a two-time state champion at Perry, coached the Maroons from 1984 to 1990. He was followed by Scott Chenoweth, a three-time state champion at Perry who coached the Maroons from 1996 to 2011. Along the way, he led Perry to 12 state titles, 11 dual state titles and four academic state championships. Today, he is superintendent of the Perry School District. Perry’s current head coach is Ronnie Delk. During his first season (2011-12), Delk led the Maroons to an 18-5 record and to the state runner-up position.

For Chenoweth, to be a Perry wrestler and to come back years later to coach that same wrestling program was a unique opportunity.

“It was very special and it meant a lot to me,” Chenoweth explained. “My goal was for the wrestlers to have the same great memories that I had and to leave feeling the pride I felt in our program.

“The keys to our success while I was coach were getting the wrestlers to believe in our system of training and to buy into how important it had to be to them. We tried to think about winning more like my teammates and I did while in college and less like most high school wrestlers think.”

While Chenoweth led Perry to many outstanding seasons, a few of them stood out perhaps a little more.

“I enjoyed all of the teams, but there were a few seasons that seemed to stand out,” Chenoweth said. “Among them was the senior class of 2007. They won dual state, regionals, the state tournament and academic state every year they were in school. I was really happy for them for that and their senior year they were able finish that off.

“Another memorable year was in 2008 when we did not make the dual state finals, but we came back two weeks later to win state. From a coaching standpoint, two memorable seasons were 1994 when I helped lead that team to a title as an assistant and in 1998, which was the first state title we won when I was head coach.”

Another key figure and one of the speakers at the Perry wrestling program reunion in summer 2012 was Paul Kendle, who placed second at 157 pounds in the 1961 state tournament. An NAIA All-American wrestler at Huron (South Dakota) College, Kendle subsequently enjoyed a highly successful coaching career at Augustana (South Dakota) College. There, Kendle took over a foundering NCAA Division II program that had finished last in the North Central Conference the previous six years to tremendous success, compiling a 160-57-1 record over the next 14 seasons. There, he had the unique privilege of coaching his son Todd to three-time All-American status.

The Kendle family has enjoyed a long history at Perry as Paul’s uncle Ernie Kendle, who was 11 years older than Paul, inspired Paul to want to become a Maroon. Likewise, Paul served as a role model for his younger cousin Nick, Class of 1965. Perhaps taking it to a bit of an extreme, when his wife was expecting the birth of their son Todd, she stayed with Paul’s parents so Todd could be born a “Perry boy.”

 Perry_wrestling_reunion  Paul_Kendle 
Shown above is a group shot at the 2012 reunion.  Paul Kendle at the reunion. 

Paul seemed to be destined to be Maroon even at a very young age. When he a just a first-grader, legendary Perry wrestling coach John Divine spoke to a group of boys in his class, approached Paul, patted him on the head and exclaimed “One day, you’re going to be one of my good wrestlers.”

Over the years, Kendle has been involved in numerous leadership roles, including serving on the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee and as two-time president of the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association, and also through his work with both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and his own “Kendle’s Athletic Outreach” program.

“I love leadership,” Kendle explained. “I know wrestling needs leadership, and it’s a natural thing for me to get involved in a leadership capacity.

“Through my non-profit organization (Kendle’s Athletic Outreach), I am able to share the philosophy of being a champion in your personal life in addition to simply on the mat. Having the opportunity to speak to kids and to share that message is one of the most gratifying experiences in my life. At the Perry wrestling reunion, I didn’t speak so much about Perry as I did about the idea of discipline and being a champion in life.”

The story of the Perry wrestling program has been told many times, but never better than by Mark Kirk, who wrestled for the Maroons and graduated in 1975. Kirk compiled a highly comprehensive, 202-page book appropriately entitled “The Maroon Dynasty” which is now in its third edition and is nothing short of amazing. A self-described “labor of love,” this ultimate source outlines the wrestlers, coaches and teams that comprise the 90-year history of this remarkable high school wrestling program.

“The project began after the 2008 state tournament in which the Maroons won title No. 35, and had five state champions, three state placers and four other qualifiers,” Kirk explained. “When I went to congratulate the coaches at the conclusion of the tournament, they asked me if there is a list of all of the state champions and qualifiers from Perry. The answer was ‘no,’ so I took it on. I’m not certain exactly how much time I have put into it, but it was hundreds and hundreds of hours. I put all of the other activities in my life on hold in 2008 as I worked on the first edition.

“The project actually started more than 45 years ago when my dad, the late Jess Kirk (Class of 1944), encouraged me to give wrestling a try. The love of wrestling that started with Dad led to the joy of competing, a way to college and a 30-year career in the sport as a coach. Like many in the history of Perry wrestling, that bond went from father to son, and I am happy to say that it even carried on from me to my son.”

 

 Perry_1975_Kirk 
1975 Perry team with Mark Kirk seated front row,
fourth from left as a high school senior; Kirk is
shown present day at top right.
 

John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at jgillis@nfhs.org
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