SK's three-headed monster maintains program's legacy

It was mid-November and the first week of South Kitsap High School wrestling practice.

First-year co-coach Dave Dyess was teaching a simple escape move to a matroom full of eager young men. When he relayed a story of how he used to practice the move during commercials while sitting on the floor watching television, there was laughter and some rolling eyes.

That’s when Ron Coppinger stepped in and spoke his mind.

“You may laugh now. You may think that’s funny,” Coppinger told the 50-some teenagers. “But take a look at that wall and you’ll see every one of our names. When we tell you something, it’s because we’ve been there. We know what it takes to win. We know what we’re talking about.”

For the few kids who didn’t already know, Coppinger was referring to the east side of the matroom, the one that has all of South Kitsap’s state wrestling participants painted on it. The center spot it reserved for the Wolves’ nine individual state champions.

Three of them — Coppinger, Dyess and Chad Nass — were standing in the room at that very moment. The three of them now make up the South Kitsap wrestling coaching staff.

The point was made.

After all, when three former state champions are all coaching at the school for which they won their titles at the same time, people take notice.

“I think it definitely carries some weight,” Nass said. “When you talk to kids about getting ready for a match, you’re a natural.”

When Ron Hudiburg retired last year after a 20-year stint at South, the door opened up for Athletic Director Steve Reischman to put together one of the most unique coaching staffs not only in Kitsap County but maybe the country.

A staff that is made up of three former state champions who all won their titles at the school where they now coach.

“What I think is unique about it is that we all kind of come from different areas,” Nass said. “Dave and Ron bring in that history of the old-school tradition. I’m not so much new school but maybe a newer-school tradition.”

Coppinger was a pioneer of sorts, winning the school’s second title in 1977, wrestling at 115-pounds. He has since stayed active in the sport, working with local pee-wees and coaching for a few years at North Kitsap.

He joined the South staff last summer as an assistant.

Dyess was a teammate of Coppinger’s and won his title in 1979 at 141-pounds. He has coached at South for more than 15 years and was named co-head coach last spring.

Nass is the youngest of the group, having won his title in 1992 at 141 pounds. He joined Dyess as co-coach this past spring after serving as an assistant for the last seven.

“We’re all so unique in what we bring from outside,” Dyess said. “And those are starting to mold and shape, and it’s pretty unique and cool. Every day it gets better and better.”

And now the three are working together to not only carry on the tradition of South Kitsap wrestling, but to teach the sport the right way — the way they were taught.

That was never more evident after the dual match with Peninsula on Dec. 15. The Wolves won a tightly contested and well-wrestled match, 38-27.

But the word that spread after the match was not only about how well the team did but how well the team conducted itself before, during and after.

And that’s what they are after, Coppinger said.

“It’s been every gratifying for me,” Coppinger said. “It doesn’t get much better than what we saw. It’s nice to watch the kids progress on what we’re teaching them. We’re showing them a lot of different things and we’re starting to see them do it.

“We were wondering how we’d do (as coaches). Until that day, I didn’t realize all the good things that we’ve done,” Coppinger said. “People started pointing it out to us, on how we looked, and that’s really neat. Win or lose, after (that) night, I would have still felt the same way. It’s nice to win but, for me, it was fun. And we kind of put that back into wrestling.”

It’s that kind of thinking that all three strive to pass on. They want to win but there’s more to it than that.

They stress sportsmanship in a era that lacks it, and in a sport that sometimes is seen as discouraging it. That comes from all three of them not only owning a state medal, but the fact that they were also members of good teams.

“What’s unique about all three of us is that we were all on really good teams,” Nass said. “We were all fortunate to be on really good teams. We weren’t just good individuals - we had good teammates and we had good teams.”

All three wrestled on teams that placed in the state’s top 10 their senior years and set a standard all three follow and shoot for today.

“That’s something all three of us realize the importance of today,” Nass said. “It’s nice to have some really good kids, but it takes the work of everybody, a team effort, and that’s what we’re trying to build.”

The foundation of what they are building is just carrying on what Hudiburg did for 20 years Nass said. But having their collective background doesn’t hurt.

“I don’t ever talk about it,” Nass said. “The kids, naturally because it’s on the wall, have noticed it or picked up on it. We try to work with the kids in the moment of where they’re at. It not about us — it’s about them.

“Them knowing that we’re all three state champions from here, I think that we get their attention,” Nass said. “They know we’ve done that, we know what we’re talking about.”

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