Hudiburg ready to make his last stand

Port Orchard is a long way from Stillwater, Okla. And the wrestling career of Ron Hudiburg has brought him a long way as well, from a high school championship back in the 1960s to today’s Mat Classic in Tacoma.

Hudiburg will see the official end of very long and successful stint in wrestling come with today’s finals, hoping to end his brilliant career the way it all started, with a state title.

“I’m ready to do something different,” Hudiburg said after his final practice Wednesday. “I don’t want to be in the corner or on the mat anymore. I’ve been there, done that.”

Seven South Kitsap wrestlers will try to send the retiring Hudiburg out as a champion, as the finals of the Class 4A state wrestling meet wrap up tonight along with Hudiburg’s 34-year coaching career.

Those going for individual titles include Brandon Kelly, Micah Kipperberg, Kyle Coppinger, Craig Senter, Pat Kelly, Brent Chriswell and Jon Potts. South has never won a state team wrestling title and had its last individual title come in 2002, when Derek Kipperberg won the 119-pound class.

And while Hudiburg has held court over his final practice and played his final game of wrestleball, the banjo-playing science teacher has maintained a very laid-back attitude to all the attention he has been getting at tournaments this year.

He has kept his emotions in check so far, insisting it’s not a big deal. That’s an attitude he’s carried his whole life.

Early success

Hudiburg grew up in Stillwater Okla., a hotbed of amateur wrestling, and he found success at an early age, placing fourth in the state tournament in 1962. He followed that up with a third-place finish in 1963 before winning a state title his senior year.

Hudiburg dabbled in college wrestling and coached at the junior high level before joining the U.S. Navy. After a two-year hitch, Hudiburg finished college and took a coaching job in Duncan, Okla. After three years of junior high coaching, where he won a state tournament title and was named coach of the year, he found his way to Port Angeles, where he spent nine years.

After a year at Decatur, Hudiburg found his wrestling destiny at South.

“You look back and it doesn’t seem like a long time,” Hudiburg said. “But if you start picking apart little pieces of it, it does.”

Hudiburg took over a once-proud wrestling program that had slipped a bit after Larry McGuire retired. When Hudiburg walked into the wrestling room his first year, there were 17 kids to greet him, not nearly enough to fill out all 14 weight classes.

But that changed quickly as he got involved in youth wrestling and soon the numbers were there and the Wolves were back, making waves at the state tournament.

“He’s been a tremendous asset to the wrestling program,” South Athletic Director Steve Reisch-man said. “Under his leadership, the program has been highly successful for almost the entire time he’s been here. His accomplishments, the accomplishments of his team and staff are well documented.”

A dynasty begins

The numbers don’t lie. And the numbers Hudiburg’s teams put up over the years are staggering.

The Wolves won the South Kitsap Invitational nine times under Hudiburg.

Under his leadership, the Wolves posted a 203-34-2 dual meet record and had five individual state champions.

But the one number that will always stick out is 114 — as in 114 straight dual meet victories dating back to 1992, when South last lost a dual to North Thurston.

“The mid-1990s were pretty exciting because we were in the top 10 a few times,” Hudiburg said. “And we even went as high as second in 1995 and that was kind of neat. Of course keeping that streak going, that’s been fun. And the state champions and all the other state placers.”

The coach, who once got interrupted during a pep talk by a talking fish, has always been labeled as laid back. It’s a coaching style that has served him well.

“Most of the time, he lets you do your thing,” said Senter, who has spent four years under Hudiburg. “He’ll get on you when he has to but he’s always there, he’s always coaching, especially the last few years. He’s in there showing us moves and getting in there.

“His philosophy is, you don’t have to know a bunch of moves. He doesn’t teach a bunch of moves,” Senter said. “But if you know a few and you do them really well or better than the other guy, you’ll win.”

That’s a style Chad Nass has seen from both sides. Nass won a state title under Hudiburg in 1992 and is now one of his assistant coaches.

“Ron the coach, some would say laid-back, and to a point he is laid-back,” Nass said. “But he also has that fire inside of him and that drive.”

Although he has mellowed over the years, Nass said Hudiburg knows when to turn up the intensity and get the results he wants. But he always maintains his family-first style.

“Getting coached by him, I didn’t get to know the personal side of Ron as well as I do now,” Nass said. “I never knew he played the banjo, and he’s very good at that. And he introduced me to my wife, so he’s been a big part of my life, he’s a big part of who I am as a person.”

A Legacy

When Hudiburg barks out his final bit of coaching expertise today, don’t expect much emotion to follow.

“I’ll get wrapped up in it and I’ll be disappointed if things don’t work right, that’s all part of the game,” Hudiburg said. “It doesn’t bother me because you have to move on. There was a time when I didn’t get to wrestle anymore either. You finish high school or college and that’s over and you enter another part of your life. Now this is over and I’m going to move on to something else.”

But he will miss certain things and some he won’t.

“The interaction with the kids and the coaches,” Hudiburg said. “The competition, I’ve had so much of that. It’s going to be nice now. I can just go and watch and have fun. I don’t have to worry about who’s winning and losing, I can just watch it and have a good time.”

As Hudiburg leaves coaching, although he said he may help out at tournaments and could possibly end up working with his son, who coaches in Walla Walla, his legacy will be one of knowledge and consistency. And teaching.

“Just being consistent and watching the kids when they are younger and giving them encouragement,” Hudiburg said. “Mak-ing it fun for them. I think consistency and discipline are a big part of it. Kids like that, they like being a part of that kind of program. Just sticking with the basics and teaching them the way I was taught, that’s basically what I’ve done.”

“He’s meant a lot to the school, not only in wrestling but as a teacher here in the building,” Reischman said. “He’s done a great job and I’m sorry to see him go.”

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