Hard work, focus and confidence have propelled two Platte County teams to the top of their wrestling game.
The Platte County Pirates returned from the Hearnes Center in Columbia on Sunday with the school district’s fourth state wrestling championship in six years. Meanwhile, the Park Hill Trojans brought home their third Class 3 championship in the district’s history.
Eleven Pirates helped the school clinch its Class 2 state title by 33 points over Oak Grove.
In the 103 pound weight class, freshman Kendall Burns finished sixth; at 112 pounds, senior Ahmed Shalabi placed sixth; freshman Tyler St. Louis at 119 pounds became the state champion as he clinched his weight class.
At 130 pounds, senior Michael Dunkum also was named the Class 2 state champ for his class, in the 135 weight bracket, senior Julian Gunnels became state champ.
140 pound sophomore Dakota Fowler failed to place, but did aid his team by scoring points; 160 pound senior Jeremy Butrous finished second in his weight class while 171 pound junior; Joe Henson placed fourth.
Both state qualifiers, sophomore Jake Guthier at 189 pounds and 215 pound junior David Sheetz didn’t place. To round out the Pirate qualifiers, 275 pound junior Jake Mallonee grabbed a state champion title.
“These kids worked hard all year long, they stayed focused and did everything we asked them to do, and it paid off,” said wrestling head coach Phil Dorman.
“We won eight of eleven matches our first day, and the second day we won eight of eight matches taking us into the final round. We ended up winning by 33 points and in wrestling that’s a pretty good margin—and it all goes back to the kids staying focused.”
The Pirates, who were 9-0 in duals this season and district champions, were also very successful this year in area tournaments. They placed third at the Park Hill duals out of 24 teams, won the Shawnee Mission North Tournament, placed fifth out of 24 teams from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa at the Lee’s Summit Christmas Tourney, finished second at the Shawnee Mission South Tourney, and placed second at the Platte County Tournament.
Dorman said in his opinion, his coaching staff is ‘one of the best in the state.’
Assistant wrestling coach Reggie Burress, who has been with the program since 1998, has been able to share in all of the Pirates’ wrestling state championships.
“He’s been a big part of the program, and this program is just as much his program as it is mine,” said Dorman.
Third year assistant coach Rick Frazier saw his first title last weekend with the Pirates, though Frazier is accustomed to state titles being a two-time state wrestling champion in high school.
Gabe Middleton, in his first year with the Pirates, was fortunate to experience a championship caliber team in his rookie coaching season with R-3. Dorman referred to Middleton as “a good young coach.”
Volunteer coach Jason Buxton has been with the team since 2002 working with the lower weights of the team. Buxton was a division one wrestler for the University of Nebraska.
“They need to be given a lot of credit for what goes on in the room. One thing I learned is that if you surround yourself with good people, then good things will happen,” stated Dorman.
With four championships over the past six years, a successful wrestling program has become a tradition for the R-3 community.
“I think the kids understand that this is a tradition and that it’s our goal every year. And it’s been a tradition the kids try and live up to,” said Dorman.
While the state championship may be becoming a tradition, the title teaches the kids a valuable lesson both in and out of school.
“What this teaches the kids is that when they work hard and stay focused, that both in and out of school they’re rewarded for it,” said Dorman.
The conference and district champ Trojans’ state tournament trip was spurred by a 8-1 season in duals and successful wins in the Jefferson City Invitational Tournament and Oakville Duals.
“Our season overall started off pretty average and continued to get better as the season went on,” wrestling head coach Bill Erneste. “By the end of the season, we had came together and peaked at the same time.”
Nine wrestlers helped Park Hill clinch its third state title, with five individuals named state champion.
125 pound senior Ryan Moyer, 130 pound sophomore Corey Carr, and twin brothers-135 pound junior Eric Graham and 140 pound Brian Graham were all named state champions in their respective weight classes.
145 pound junior, Brett Moyer finished in the top eight, sophomore, Robbie Hicklin placed second in the 152 pound weight class, senior Sean Miller was named the state champion at the 189 pound weight class, 215 pound junior Kyle Rose placed second, and junior heavyweight, Chris Miller finished in the top eight.
“We had a ‘careful confidence’ going into state,” said Erneste. “We were confident we could do it, but careful we didn’t overlook anyone.”
While the team carried that ‘careful confidence’ with them into Columbia, Erneste’s expectations were still exceeded.
“I think our success exceeded my expectations, but I know the guys worked hard for years for this and they peaked at the right time,” stated Erneste. “The kids were amazing. When they stepped into the Hearnes Center, they knew why they were there. We knew we had one common goal and that was the state championship and we weren’t going to be denied that.”
Erneste also shared that the state tournament took on a special meaning to his team.
“One guy on our team three weeks ago was diagnosed with testicular cancer. So starting then, our team decided to win state,” said Erneste. “The championship was for “Sparky” and not for themselves and the team decided to give him the trophy so he knew he was fighting the good fight.”
Erneste added, “His deal is real life, and we wanted him to know that he was with us and we were with him.”
Erneste, who has been Park Hill’s wrestling head coach for seven years, shares the same sentiments about his assistant coaching staff as Dorman does of his.
“I have probably the best assistant coaches in the state and our administration helps us tremendously. Our assistant coaches are the real deal,” stated Erneste.
Park Hill’s assistant coaching staff is: heavyweight coach Bryan Elan, middle weight coach Joe Gonier, lightweight coach Mike Tuck, and special assistant coach Ryan Campbell, who Erneste said takes the kids special skills on the mat and works with them to utilize their abilities.
“He’s probably the reason Corey Carr won the state championship as a sophomore,” said Erneste.
With the success the team had this year, the coach said he is hopeful for next season.
“I’m hopeful for next year and our goal stays the same each year, it’s just if you achieve it or not.”