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Honoring a Legend
Crook County wrestling coach Russ Thurman is honored with a sign above the wrestling room
Former Crook County High School wrestling coach Russ Thurman won two state championships, 18 district titles, and had 509 dual meet wins during his head coaching career. The Crook County High School wrestling room was recently named for Thurman.
December 04, 2012
Russ Thurman was a legend in Crook County.
In his illustrious career, coaching wrestling, he earned more than 500 dual meet victories, 18 district championships, and two state titles.
Nonetheless, those who wrestled for him remember him more because of what he meant to them as a person than as a coach.
Now, Thurman, who passed away earlier this year, is being remembered one last time as the Crook County High School wrestling room has been renamed in his honor.
“It’s awesome,” said Crook County School Board member Doug Smith, who wrestled for Thurman. “It’s absolutely perfect. It couldn’t be more right.”
A sign was installed above the wrestling room door a ew weeks ago while students were out of school at the end of the fall grading period. However, the renaming didn’t become official until Saturday, Nov. 17, when Thurman was recognized prior to the start of the annual Blue and Gold Wrestle-offs.
It was a somber start to what was otherwise a celebration of wrestling. Mike Shinkle, a current CCHS assistant wrestling coach who wrestled for Thurman ,spoke from the heart to a hushed crowd about what Thurman had meant to him.
“Thurman was the type of coach that would hate the fuss over him,” Shinkle said. “He wouldn’t like the fact that we named a room after him. He wouldn’t want us to talk about him, but coach Thurman was a coach of men. He was a great wrestling coach, but above all and outweighing everything else was not only what he did for myself as a young man, but for several hundred other young men.”
Shinkle went on to talk about Thurman’s character and his integrity.
“I just want to say thank you,” he said. “He’s got a lot of records on the walls for wrestling, but what he did in my life outweighs that by far.”
“I just wish they had asked for a show of hands from everyone who wrestled for Thurman,” he said. “I bet this gym is filled with his wrestlers.”
Crook County businessman, and former CCHS wrestler, Craig Woodward also had nothing but praise for Thurman.
“If you ever wrestled for, coached against, or even knew coach Thurman, there would be no doubt in your mind that naming the CCHS wrestling room in his honor is only fitting,” he said. “Russ Thurman’s name is synonymous with sportsmanship, integrity, class, respect, honesty, fair play, determination, persistence, and success.”
Woodward’s son also wrestled for Crook County, and his grandson is wrestling there today. As a result, he has been around the wrestling program for years. Woodward still sees Thurman’s influence in the wrestling room today.
“Coach Huffman (Crook County’s current head coach) and his staff continue to instill the same qualities in today’s wrestlers that coach Thurman achieved during his 30-year career at Crook County.”
Although Huffman, never wrestled for Thurman, he also had nothing but praise for Thurman.
“Russ Thurman has left a legacy here,” he said. “What he did for Crook County wrestling is something that will probably never be matched. He’s a hero to a lot of folks in this community, and rightfully so. The least — the very least we could do is recognize him at this event and let people know that that wrestling room is still following his principles and his beliefs.”
Shinkle also sees Thurman’s influence in how the current program functions.
“He was a developer of character,” Shinkle said. “I’m proud to have wrestled for Thurman. I just hope that my sons and some of the young men who wrestled for me will someday say the same things about me and about the way we run the wrestling room.”
Smith added that it isn’t just at Crook County that Thurman has left a legacy.
Rob Berger, who wrestled for Thurman, went on to become head coach at Hermiston. Berger retired recently after more than 30 years and 230 dual meet victories. However, Berger isn’t the only person to wrestle for Thurman and then go on to become a wrestling coach.
“To see how many coaches wrestled for coach Thurman, just go to state and look,” he said. “I think there are 10 to 15 of them walking around out there that are Crook County kids. It’s just incredible how he changed wrestling in the entire state of Oregon.”
Dave Maley, who now coaches at Roseburg, is one of those coaches.
“He was probably the greatest man I’ve ever met,” Maley said. “He was not only a coach, he was a friend. He was very influential to me. He was a great guy and a good wrestling coach and when the whistle blew, he just went after it.”
That sums it all up. Russ Thurman may be gone, but his legacy lives on and wrestling in Oregon is better for it.