Tuttle wrestling program stands test of time
(Editor's Note: Coachesaid.com wanted to know how Tuttle wrestling came from nowhere in the 1970s to become one of the top mat powers in Oklahoma through the last three decades. Reporter Wayne Bishop and photographer Kevin Bishop spent an afternoon at Tuttle High School, visiting with coaches. Here's their report.)
In 1978 Oklahoma expanded from three wrestling classes to four. Winning team championships that winter were Putnam City, Booker T. Washington, Owasso and – of course – Perry.
Of course, Perry. Wrestling dynasties have come and gone in Oklahoma. Perry has come, but has never gone.
That same year the Maroons were winning their 17th team title, something was going on in Tuttle that would change the landscape of high school wrestling in the state over the past 21 years. Mike London and his family moved to town.
It’s too early to say that London helped create a dynasty. There were potential dynasties at Tulsa Central, Midwest City, El Reno, OC Marshall, Booker T. Washington and a few other schools which have either hit on hard times or no longer have programs.
Tuttle won its first team title in 1990 – two years after the school’s first individual state champion (Trent London in 1988). Trent won again in 1989 and 1990 – when the Tigers captured their first team championship. He was named the Outstanding Wrestler in Class 3A that year.
In 1996 and 1997 Tuttle again won team crowns. And five times this century the Tigers have finished on top – 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010 and this past February. The school has also won Dual State titles in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2011.
In addition, Tuttle was state runner-up in 1988, 1989, 1995, 1998 and 2001. It was second at Dual State in 1993, 2001, 2003, 2008 and 2009. And the school won the Academic State Championship in its class 11 times – including the last five years of the 1990s and the past four years.
Dynasties, however, must stand the test of time. No one could have imagined four years ago that Midwest City would fail to have a qualifier in the 2011 Class 6A state tournament.
Tuttle has the ingredients to become more than just a flash in the high school wrestling pan. There is support from the administration. There is support from the community. There are great coaches – both full-time and volunteers. And there is a kid program which rates up there with any in the state.
That takes us back to Mike London. He wrestled at U.S. Grant high school for one of the coaching legends in Oklahoma – Virgil Milliron, who guided champions at John Marshall, U.S. Grant and Midwest City. His son Trent was wrestling for the Southwest Tigers in Oklahoma City when Mike decided to move to the “country.”
“I was five at the time,” said Trent, who now helps with the kid program at Tuttle. We didn’t have a place to work out. We went to the school board and got an old building. And we had success with our kid program. We were given permission to build a wrestling room where the boiler room was in that old building. The parents got in there and dug it out and turned it into a wrestling room. Then the school board allowed us to have a junior high team. The next year we added a high school team.”
That’s right. There was no junior high or high school team when Mike London began his kid program in Tuttle. By the time the town fielded its first high school squad, there were several youngsters who had already learned many of the basics.
The second year of the high school program, Tuttle hired Greg Henning as head wrestling coach. That was the missing piece of the puzzle. It helped that Greg brought along sons Jeff, Jared and Ryan. Between them, they won 11 gold medals at state tournaments and three Outstanding Wrestler awards.
In 1989 Ryan Martin joined Trent London as a state champ. In 1990, Scotty Kaler and Shane Head won golds along with Trent, and they brought the school its first team title to go with the Dual State crown the year before.
Head took the OW honor as a senior in 1991. Then Steven Schmidt won it in 1993 – the year he won his third in a row. Ryan Neasbitt took gold in 1994 and Clint Henderson and Jeff Henning in 1995, 1996 and 1997. Jeff won the OW in 1997 and in 1998, when he completed his four-peat.
Since that first individual title by Trent London in 1988, Tuttle has had a least one titlist every year except 2006. In addition to those already mentioned, there were Canon Patchell in 1997-1999, James Patchell (1998, 1999), Austin Martin (1999), B.J. Jackson (2001, 2002), Brandon Benson (2002, 2003), Trent Williams (2003), Josh Bryant (2004), Bobby Williams (2007, 2008 and 2009 – OW the last two), Cole Gracey (2008, 2010), Colton Roberts (2009, 2010), Shane Woods (2009, 2010), Zachary Beard (2010, 2011), and Sterling Hawkins, Levi Berry and Dylan Coppenbarger, all last year.
Shane Head is now an assistant coach at Tuttle. His son Dakota was a state runner-up this season as a freshman, winning 32 matches. He’s the first “true second generation kid” on the squad.
While this kid program was being nurtured in Tuttle, a youngster in nearby Chickasha was looking for a place to get more time on the mat. Matt Surber found that in Tuttle. Also, Neasbitt was growing up in Amber (between Tuttle and Chickasha), trying to find his niche as a football player, or in baseball or basketball.
“I was awful,” said Ryan during an afternoon break at the Tuttle wrestling room. “I was nine years old and I was the last one off the bench in basketball. I never made a start. So I came over here (Tuttle) and I was pretty good at wrestling. I was ‘someone’ here. So we moved over here.”
After winning a state title at Tuttle, Neasbitt wound up rooming with Surber at Central Oklahoma University. It would later be Neasbitt who called Surber about joining the staff at Tuttle.
“I remember when I was in high school and I’d come over here and there would be Kendall Cross (former OSU and Olympics star) working with the kids,” said Surber, now in his sixth year as head coach. “This was back in 1988 or ’89. When Ryan called and said Greg Henning was looking to get out of coaching, I started thinking about coming over here. The next year I was hired as an assistant in football and wrestling. We went 14-0 in football and then the next year Greg left and I was head coach. But he had already let me take over much of the work that first year.”
When Ryan Henning – Greg’s youngest – wrapped up his career, the elder Henning was ready to retire from coaching. Needless to say, he did not leave the cupboard bare for the new boss.
“I had done my homework,” Surber admitted. “I knew there were a lot of very talented wrestlers coming up through the kid program.”
And they just keep coming up. “You walk in here (the wrestling room) and there are a couple of three-time state champions, and a two-time state champion and college All-Americans and a former Olympian. I only won one state championship. I feel like a chump,” said Neasbitt.
“But that’s why the program is really rolling right now. There are 50 kids here in the little leagues, and 50 more in junior high and 50 more working out after school. Mike London and those guys got it going. And now it’s become a family thing. What Matt does so well is taking all those egos, all those great wrestlers, and he manages it all.”
Not so many years ago the coaches at Tuttle tried to talk a talented athlete by the name of Jason White into switching from basketball to wrestling. White did ok in basketball and wound up with a Heisman Trophy as a record-setting quarterback at the University of Oklahoma.
You’ll see White’s name and honor on the water tower coming into Tuttle. But residents there are pretty darned proud of their wrestlers, too.
“When Tuttle goes to the state tournament,” Neasbitt continued, “it’s like a big reunion. We all remember going to the state tournament. It was such a neat event for the first group of guys, and now we have another generation starting. All of us kids have kids. There is a mix of old wrestlers, parents and people who are simply proud to be Tuttle wrestling fans.”
“Greg Henning is still living here in town,” said Surber. “We still see him at matches. And he did such a great job here for us in building our program. Mike London made it possible by starting the kid program. And we have all these former wrestlers who come in and help. It’s really amazing.”
As another school year winds down, the wrestlers at Tuttle keep busy. At the Reno Worlds in Nevada recently, Luke Surber (Matt’s son) took second in the 8-under division at 67 pounds. He won seven of eight matches there. Fifth-grader Rhett Golowenski placed sixth in the 12-under at 67 pounds. Levi Berry, who had a great freshman year for the Tigers, went to Kansas City and won his weight in the Brute/Addidas tournament freshman division. He won a state title at 140 pounds with a 41-8 mark.
One Tuttle wrestler who appears headed for four golds and a Division I career is Zachary Beard, who is 80-9 in two years with two titles. He brought national attention to Tuttle this past week when he competed in the Asics/USA Folkstyle National Wrestling Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He won the Cadet Division (16-under) national title, competing against 30 youngsters from across the nation at his weight (160). He pinned his first four opponents, then won the finals by a score of 7-4. He’s the first Tuttle wrestler to win All-American honors since Neasbitt in 1994.
Surber recommended J&W Grill in Chickasha as a great place to get a burger when staying there during a baseball tournament. And he was right. Located at 501 W. Choctaw, it was right on the way out of town. When told about our trip to Tuttle the day before, our hostess, Sky Muncrief, grinned and said she had boys working out in the Tiger kids program – even though they went to Chickasha schools. Cade and Cash Muncrief are 9 and 8, and Caison is 5 and on his way to the mats.
“You can learn so much up there, being around all of those coaches and kids who are so good and working so hard,” she explained.
Dynasties survive on that type of work.
article updated on 04/16/11 16:27