Sports

Wrestling's in their blood

When Ron Coppinger first stepped on a wrestling mat at South Kitsap High School back in the mid 1970s, he had no idea just what kind of impact it would have on his family.

Twenty-seven years later, the Coppinger name is held in high regard around the school and around Port Orchard.

“At South, when you hear the name Coppinger, you automatically associate it with wrestling,” Kyle Coppinger said. "It has a little bit to do with the family name because it is a family name around here.”

It’s a name that Ron first cemented in the minds of South Kitsappers with his state title back in 1977. It grew through the exploits of brothers Mark, Tony, — second in state in 1980 — and Tom, who found a football field was more to his liking than a mat. The name is now carried on by the next generation of Coppingers, Jacob and Kyle.

The little guy hits the big time

Ron Coppinger grew up in a typical family, the second of four brothers, all of whom were competitive in their own ways.

“I know for us, how we all started, was there were four boys, all a year apart,” Ron said. “When we were young, I don’t want to say we were fighting a lot, but … we were brothers. There we were, rolling around a lot and someone said to our dad, you should get them into wrestling.”

And so it began.

“I do remember that (former South Kitsap baseball coach) Elton Goodwin was my first coach,” Ron says with a laugh. “And he still jokes with me know about that. He tells me ‘I taught you everything you know.’ We were just little guys and he remembers us as being pretty squirrelly.”

But that would change for the brothers. Tom, the oldest, would go on to play football for the Wolves. Ron and his two younger siblings, Mark and Tony, would find their way onto the wrestling mat and into South Kitsap history.

“For me personally and I think for Tony too, we participated in the other sports,” Ron said. “But I wasn’t really big enough for football, I mean, I was 120 pounds or something like that. But wrestling was something for someone who wasn’t big enough to play other sports.”

Ron found his place under former coach Larry McGuire and placed fifth in state in 1976, wrestling at 108 pounds. A year later Ron, going at 115 pounds, won the state title, beating Mark Anderson of Clover Park, 10-2.

“He was the guy. Up until regionals that year, he was undefeated,” former teammate and current SK assistant coach Dave Dyess said. “He was kind of the sure thing. He could always be counted on for a win.”

Dyess, who would go on to win a state title two years later, remembers Ron as a mentor.

“He was a leader because he had placed at state the year before,” Dyess said. “So, he was kind of “the guy” on the team that year.”

Ron would go on to wrestle at Central Washington for three years while little brother Tony would place second at state in 1980, wrestling at 129 pounds. Mark, who would end up fighting through injuries for most of his career, helped keep the Coppinger name going.

A passion was born.

New breed, new pressure emerges

“(I got into wrestling) mostly because my dad got second in state and I just wanted to be like him when I was little,” Jacob Coppinger said. “I wrestled in pee wees and junior high but never really liked it that much until I got to high school.”

That’s the legacy that Ron started and has worked hard to keep going.

Jacob and Kyle Coppinger are his nephews and both are juniors on this year’s South Kitsap wrestling team. Kyle, who wrestles at 140 pounds, is Tom’s son, Jacob, who goes at 125 pounds, is Tony’s.

“Because (the brothers) all wrestled, I think Kyle wanted that too — a goal to achieve — and the same with Jacob,” Ron said. “With other boys, I guess some have it and some don’t, you really can’t put a finger on it. Some have it more than others. I mean with me, it’s a passion.”

And it’s one that has been handed down to his nephews, consciously or not. But along with that comes pressure, whether it was meant to be there or not.

“I used too (feel pressure),” Jacob said. “Last year, I felt pressure, not that they were putting it on me, it was because I felt it myself. Now, it’s just gone away, it’s just normal now.

“They make sure of that, too,” Jacob said. “They say if you don’t want to go, just don’t go, take it off. But I’m there every day because I want to be good. Last year and this year, I started working hard because I want to place for myself at state. Not because my dad wants me to or anything.”

Ron has worried about that and doesn’t want to see any un-needed pressure put on his nephews.

“I think there’s pressure on both of them,” Dyess said. “Their uncles placed at state and came through the program and made their mark and I think there’s that type of pressure on them to reach that level. I think there’s pressure this year because they both want to place at state this year. If they don’t reach that, I think they’d both be really disappointed. I think they are really trying and striving for that.

“There’s some pressure on them, but I think you see that on anybody that has come through the program,” Dyess said. “The program’s old enough now where it has enough history and tradition that if your dad or a relative came through, there is some pressure in that there’s a pride factor. I belong to a program that’s successful and I’m part of it just the same as my dad or uncle.”

Kyle sees things the same way.

“Growing up around wrestling and how my uncle was a state champ and my other uncle took second, makes it easier for me,” Kyle said. “I learn a lot from them, they are like a second coach to me.

”I love it. I love the challenge of it,” Kyle said. “I do it for myself, more now that I have gotten up here to high school, I’ve got personal goals. There1s pressure and stuff like that but it’s good because it pushes me. If I wasn’t doing this, then I’d be doing something else that I shouldn’t be doing. It keeps me good.

“Yeah, the pressure is there, but it’s all freewill, it’s all me,” Kyle said. “It’s my decision. Once I made that decision, they’re behind me all the way. When there are times I don’t want to wrestle, I have to wrestle, and that’s what makes me good. And they’re there for me.”

Still in the game, feeding the desire

Ron is still active in the sport, having coached pee-wee wrestling on the side, and even going so far as to build a mat room in his house. That has since been moved to another household, but Ron found the time to help his former coach take on coaching duties at North Kitsap from 1998-2002.

“It was actually embarrassing for me,” Ron laughs. “North doesn’t have the number of kids. We did the best with the kids we had. South has athletes, we had maybe one or two. And you just can’t compete with those numbers.

“I think (current South Kitsap coach Ron) Hudiburg put in the paper one time, which I’ll remember, ‘It was a ho-hum match, he said. ‘ Which, I tell you, I’d have given him a ho-hum match if I could,” Ron said. “If they went out and coached at any of these other schools, they’d have an awakening to just how fortunate they are with the athletes they have.”

Ron can be found working with Kyle and Jacob and sophomore Brent Chriswell, among others, daily in the mat room he moved to the Chriswell home recently.

Ron hopes to get a chance to coach at his alma mater, maybe next year when Kyle and Jacob are seniors. But until then, he’s content to working with any wrestlers that might benefit from his expertise.

”He mostly goes through what’s working now days and back then, what he used

to use,” Jacob said. “He looks at our styles and watches us and tells us what’s best for us.”

This can be a difficult task when working with family members. Ron hates to compare his nephews, being that they compete in different weight classes.

“They have totally different builds,” Ron said. “(Jacob) is tall and skinny and flexible as can be and (Kyle) is stocky and just a little fireplug. I mean he’s explosive. It’s a little tougher to instruct them because they don’t use the same things. They have two different styles.

“I see more of myself in Kyle than in Jacob,” Ron said. “Jacob is a lot like his dad. Although this year, he’s stepped up in wanting to learn more. I mean, he’s a kid; he wanted to do other stuff. And Kyle was kind of driven, he wanted to do it more through the off season and learn as much as he could. And as kids, (my brothers) were the same way. I was the one dragging Tony around to the tournaments. If I wasn’t dragging him, he probably wouldn’t have went.

“Kyle is a lot like I was, he’s driven,” Ron said. “He’s willing to pay the price to be the best he can. And that’s a big step for a kid. Weather it’s the conditioning part or the technique work, anything he can do, he’s trying to do it. And that’s what I did. I see that in him. That’s how I was. And that’s something you either have or don’t have. You can’t force a kid to do something he doesn’t want to do. That’s when you lose them.

“You are proud and the important part is, and I really try to emphasize this to them, I’m as proud of both of them if they wrestled or if they didn’t,” Ron said. “Working with them, and watching them do the best they can to learn and to go out there and do their best - that makes me proud. Win or lose. To me that’s the important part, to just see them out there working hard.

“They’re winners as they are, no matter what happens.”

Dyess can see a lot of Ron in his nephews, as well.

“Kyle, more than Jacob,” Dyess said. “I think Jacob resembles more of Tony where Kyle, he resembles Ron more than anyone. It’s how competitive he is, his desire. He’s almost a little more competitive than what’s good for him.”

But both carry the characteristics of the uncles and fathers, which, Dyess says, will serve them both well during the state tournament.

“Indeed it will, indeed,” Dyess said. “And I think by the time that the state tournament’s over, they will have proved that.”

Kyle and Jacob know the family history, have dealt with it before and know they will have to in the future. But both know the importance of it.

"We’re cousins and it’s good to have a cousin that’s the same age,” Kyle

said. “I’d say he’s one of my best friends, so it’s good to have that.

”We’ve got a picture of all (the Coppinger brothers) and my grandpa sitting all in a row (at a wrestling match),” Kyle said. “So, it’s pretty cool. Lot’s of support. It’s good to have them all behind us.”

Until the next wave of Coppingers hits the South Kitsap mat room - look for

them to arrive in about 20 years.

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