PERRY, OKLAHOMA — There is no other sound like it, the thump of feet on a rubber mat, the loud cadence of a coach echoing of metal walls.
Earthquakes may be suddenly common around the town of Perry, but this town has long been the epicenter of high school wrestling in Oklahoma.
“There’s no other place like this in the United States, in any sport,” says Perry wrestling coach Ronnie Delk.
Sitting in a busy café across the street from the court house square is John St. Clair.
He was state champion in wrestling 2 years, 1942 and 1943.
“I just went out with the big boys,” he recalls of those days.
At the Kumback Cafe, he and his daughter Cheryl can still find his picture among the hundreds that line the restaurant walls.
St. Clair was Perry’s first state champion wrestler but many more followed.
There have been more that 160 individual Perry wrestlers who’ve won it since.
“What is it about Perry and wrestling,” asks a visitor?
St. Clair replies, “It’s just something that everybody does.”
Starting in 1952, the high school wrestling team in Perry has won 40 state championships (the latest on March 1, 2014).
The banners hang in a gym named after a wrestling coach.
Perry’s current coach Delk can’t walk through the old barn without thinking about the dynasty he took over two years ago.
“It’s hard to believe there’s that many state championships up there,” he says.
In addition to a banner, the state champ gets a gold trophy.
Perry’s case doesn’t have much room for the second place silver trophy even though Perry has more of those than any other school as well.
Coach Delk says, “I come out here to look at them sometimes, especially this time of year. You want to know what you’re working for.”
We caught up with the Maroons last practice before the state tournament.
They were defending state champions.
The dozen qualifiers in Class 3A went through a few light drill before boarding a bus and leading a long parade to Oklahoma City.
Senior David Thomas captained the latest in a very long line of wrestlers who’ve shared in at least one state title during their time on the team.
“I feel like I’m part of it,” he said. “Or becoming a part of it after this year. I’m going to go down in the books and be remembered by the few men who were here with me.”
The wrestling room off campus is lined with pictures and plaques celebrating past champions.
Some of them stare like ghosts from their lofty perches.
Wrestling them is a task made impossible by time, unless those ghosts are on your side.
The Maroons handily won their 40th Oklahoma championship in Class 3A.
4 wrestlers reached the finals.
David Thomas won his championship at 160 pounds.
For more information on the unique legacy of high school wrestling in Perry go to www.nfhs.org/content.aspx?id=8144