Tri-State has past ties to present lives in Columbia Basin

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Rodney Harwood

The circle seems self contained, but it never ceases to amaze me how connected things are in the wrestling world.

I spent a half a dozen odd years covering the Tri-State Tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, watching some of the best high school wrestlers in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not sure how it compares to the Beast of the East, but folks around here will tell you Tri-State, the longest continually running invitational tournament in the Northwest, is tougher than their state championships.

At the time I was there, the tournament hierarchy was in transition from longtime Pacific Northwest coaching legend John Owen to his protege North Idaho College coach Pat Whitcomb.

What I didn’t know then, is how this great tradition has past ties to present lives here in the Columbia Basin.

“I handed John Owen the first loss back in 1984, or maybe 1985,” said Washington Wrestling Coaches Hall of Famer Ruben Martinez as if it were a badge of honor.

Beating J.O. was a big deal.

Owen (309-22-2) guided NIC to eight national championships and 17 top three national finishes over his 20-year Cardinal coaching career. He eventually went back to the Washington high school ranks to coach his boys Tommy and Brian at University High in Spokane. Owen eventually gravitated to Central Valley and then West Valley before retiring. J.O. was finally inducted into the Washington Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame back in November.

His wrestling coaches tree includes Whitcomb, who won two national championships as a wrestler at North Idaho College. As a coach, Whitcomb has won four of the NJCAA record 14 national championships.

The North Idaho connection to the Columbia Basin is tenfold. Owen coaxed Moses Lake monster Mark Janke out of retirement after the redshirt freshman starter for Oklahoma retired with injury issues. Janke was 135-5 in high school, winning state championships in 1991-92. He also won back-to-back NJCAA national titles in 1996-97. Mark was a three-time Tri-State champion and received a full-ride to the University of Oklahoma. His brother Matt was also a Tri-State champion and later worked as an Owens assistant coach for three years.

Current Big Bend Community College men’s coach Jose Tanguma wrestled for Whitcomb at NIC, and on a side note, Chiefs assistant coach and four-time state medalist Ariel Garza’s epic state championship victory was against Tommy Owen.

The Moses Lake room has always been known as a place where champions are forged. Coaching legend Ron Seibel (1976-2004) produced polished, productive combatants in creating the Chiefs wrestling dynasty. He was named the National Federation of State High School Associations National Wrestling coach of the year. Seibel, who is still works as an assistant in the Chiefs room, was also presented the NFHS Section 8 coaches award.

His coaching tree includes current coach Jaime Garza. Jaime was a part of the Moses Lake three-peat in 1998-99-00 to usher in the 21st century. As a coach, Garza guided the 2015 team to the top shelf at the 4A Mat Classic, as well as a three individual Tri-State champions.

In Othello, National Wrestling Hall of Fame coach Wayne Schutte spent 21 years as head coach of the Huskies. His teams accumulated over 250 wins. Schutte coached 15 champions and 58 state place winners. In addition, Wayne was three-time head coach of the Washington State Junior National Teams and the Zone 8 head coach for the Washington Centennial Games.

It’s hard to even call it a coaching tree, when one Hall of Famer hands off to another. Ruben Martinez spent 20 of his 45 years maintaining the Huskies stronghold. There’s a stretch of 41 years combined with Schutte and Martinez. Ruben produced 2A state team champions in 2004 and 2013, and had 16 individual state champions. He is now in his first season at 1A Royal City.

The Othello coaching tradition includes current Huskies coach Rudy Ochoa II. Ochoa II is still looking for his first team state title, but has produced a pair of state champions in each of the past two seasons.

The circle remains unbroken and the connection from the Tri-State to the Columbia Basin continues to have past ties to present lives.

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