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As the proverbial architect of the Durant wrestling program, Greg Newell continues to take pride in its success even more than a decade after his retirement.
Newell not only started the program from the ground up after arriving in southeastern Oklahoma in the 1980s, he had a host of state qualifiers along the way in his 18 years at the helm.
For his efforts this fall, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame with the Lifetime Service to Wrestling award.
Other honorees in this year’s induction class were Dale Estep, Tony Macias, Darren Peaster, Nick Williams and John Henry Ward.
The recognition and induction came as quite a surprise to the long-time skipper that also helped coach football and golf during his tenure at DHS after moving from Larned, Kansas back in the early 1980s.
“I filled out some application paperwork for a friend of mine that was already in Hall of Fame last year and didn’t think much about it,” Newell commented.
“They contacted me right after the regional tournament in February and told me that I was going to be inducted so it was quite a surprise and definitely an honor. Especially when you see some of the other guys that are inducted and have been honored.
“We went up to Oklahoma City for the induction in October. Several people from Durant went up. Ron and Bob Ansiel, who were two of the founding fathers of the youth wrestling program, and their sons were there along with several others and my family, so it was a neat deal.”
Newell coached wrestling at Larned for a few years before moving over to Fort Hays State to help with the wrestling program. In 1980, he was contacted by then DHS head football coach and athletic director Tom Spicer about coming to Durant to start a wrestling program.
They moved to Durant in 1982 where he helped Spicer with the football program while still working on the model for the school wrestling program. In the meantime, however, the Ansiels and others had begun a youth program.
The first year of the Lions’ wrestling team finally came around in 1986.
“Those parents involved in the youth program were really putting the pressure on David Williams (then superintendent) to continue things into the school system,” Newell said. “Gib (Dolezal) had been at Perry and seen their wrestling success and we agreed that we wanted to get it going. Those young kids were going into junior high and the school wanted to just start there but I said if we we’re going lets just go all the way through.
“We took a pretty good beating at the high school level because of numbers and inexperience those first couple of years but it got better and better as the years went along. And it was fun building because it was my program.”
Newell still has plenty of vivid memories of those early groups that came through and admittedly still stays in contact with many of those former wrestlers.
“I had a lot of really good wrestlers while I was head coach,” he stated. “I remember that first group with the Ansiel boys, Josh Grider and Greg Newman. Tony Tubbs was our first state placer and later Jeremy McCoy was a four-time state qualifier for us, two-time state placer and state runner-up and that got us some publicity and more interest in the program.
“Some of the kids coming to us just started wrestling in the seventh or eighth grade so we were a little behind some of the bigger schools that we compete with, but more and more began getting involved with the youth program that is still going today. It was a big advantage for us when Jim Taylor came back to Durant and started coaching those junior high kids. When the opportunity came when I was going to get out of coaching, we wanted Jim to move into that position and the administration agreed. Things have continued to progress since then.”
Newell continues to point to the youth programs, which now includes divisions of new wrestlers that Taylor works with on a regular basis to more experienced wrestlers that are instructed by former grappling standouts Brandon Brooks and Chaz Polk.
“When you have kids coming up through the ranks for 10 or 15 years you can be really successful and they have several now in high school that have come all the way up through the system and are competing very well,” he pridefully added. “Wrestling is a very unique sport. When you get involved, you get involved. It’s an individual sport for the most part so most of those kids have to be self-driven to get the recognition. I’m really proud of some of the things the kids have accomplished and where our program is right now. I still stay in contact and remain part of the program.
“This year is probably the best overall groups that we have had at the high school level and I think they have a shot to get to dual state for the first time and be one of the top eight wrestling programs in the state of Oklahoma in Class 5A. We’re still looking for that first state champion, but I think that is coming in the next couple of years. Hopefully, Durant will be noted as one of the top wrestling schools in the state of Oklahoma in the near future.”