SK owes much of its success to emtional leader

As there is every year, plenty was going on at this year’s Mat Classic that would quickly catch a sportswriter’s eye.

Actually, there was enough happening in the Tacoma Dome last weekend to grab just about anyone’s attention.

With 440 matches covering 14 different weight classes in four divisions going on pretty much at the same time, there were story lines abounding in every conceivable direction covering every conceivable angle.

There was Kelso’s Brandon Sitch, aiming to become just the fourth wrestler in state history to win four titles.

He did.

There was Whitney Conder of Puyallup, attempting to become the first female to win a title.

She didn’t.

There was Brent Chriswell, vying to become South Kitsap’s first two-time champion.

He is.

And there was Larry Maguire, soaking in yet another Mat Classic. By his count, he’s been to all of them. That’s right, every single one and that’s not counting all the years the state tournament wasn’t called the Mat Classic.

I made sure to keep my eye on him as much as possible this year because, sadly, Mat Classic XVIII will most likely be his last.

For those that may not know, Coach Maguire — as I have always and will always refer to him — was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, last year. And as most of you probably know, there is no cure.

But despite the weight loss, the slurring of his speech and now the limited use of his arms and hands, Maguire was in South’s mat room as often as he could be throughout this season, doing what he has always done best, guiding young men in the ways of sport and life.

And he was there this weekend, handing out medals and congratulating the winners as many members of the Washington Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame, of which he has been a member of for many years, do each year.

It seems his fingerprints are everywhere when it comes to high-school wrestling, from Port Orchard to Poulsbo and everywhere in between.

He has started programs, re-built others and guided some to championship levels.

He’s had a hand in shaping the wrestling careers of so many individual state champions, among them Ron Coppinger, Dave Dyess, Chad Nass and now Brent Chriswell and Josiah Kipperberg.

That’s why everywhere Coach Maguire went last weekend, a crowd followed close behind. That’s why so many people made a point of coming up to shake his hand, share a story and a laugh.

Joe Reasons was one of those. He and Coach Maguire go back some 40 years, when they used to coach against each other, Reasons at Clover Park, Maguire at South Kitsap.

Most of the coaches that found their way to the awards tables have probably coached and lost to Maguire at some point.

Believe me, there were times when coach Maguire was drawing more attention than the athletics he was there to watch.

And that’s a testament to him and everything he has accomplished over his long career.

He is wrestling in the state of Washington.

For more than 40 years, he has touched so many lives with his wit and knowledge. It doesn’t seem that we, or the state of Washington, can ever repay him.

But one person did his best to do just that Saturday night.

With a chance to make school history on the line by becoming the first-ever South Kitsap wrestler to win two state titles, Chriswell graciously offered Coach Maguire a mat-side coaching seat for his 189-pound championship match Saturday night.

It was a simple but classy gesture from a kid who has benefited so much from Coach Maguire’s tutelage.

But to me, and others, it spoke volumes.   

A few minutes after winning that second title, Chriswell offered up yet another tribute that is sure to stay with those that witnessed it.

Instead of receiving his championship medal from Maguire, Chriswell jumped down from the top of the podium and placed his medal around the old coach’s neck.

Larry Maguire left the Mat Classic Saturday night, maybe for the last time, with his sons at his side and an unexpected gift dangling from his neck.

But, because of him, the rest of us left with even more.

Jeff Wilson can be reached at 876-4414, or by e-mail at

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