North Marion head wrestling coach Shane Sheppard had quite the commute to get to his first meet-and-greet with the Husky wrestling community last week. — roughly 1,300 miles.
The new head of the high school wrestling program made the cross-country drive from Minot State University in North Dakota, arriving in Oregon on Thursday, June 20, just four days before a scheduled barbecue dinner the following Monday to meet with the athletes and parents he'll be working with this summer and the coming season.
"It was a blast," Sheppard said. "We had like 50 people out. It was fun — parents and kids — it's been a blast."
Sheppard was hired in May to fill the post left by former North Marion head coach Jared Wilson, who led the Huskies for six seasons from 2013-19 and announced at the beginning of 2019 that he would taking a teaching position at Silverton High School next year.
An Oregon native from Scio, Sheppard wrestled at Stayton High School, graduating in 2012. He went on to compete collegiately at Clackamas Community College before transferring to Minot State for the final two years of his competitive career from 2016-18. Sheppard stayed on with the Beavers last year, working as a student assistant coach within the program and reached out to Oregon USA Wrestling Chairman Steve Thorpe about possible coaching positions open in his home. Sheppard was pointed toward the North Marion position and connected with Athletic Director Ron Holyoak, who brought him on board in late spring.
Though Sheppard was stationed in the Midwest for the remainder of the academic school year, he had no problem using social media to reach out to the Husky wrestling community, working to build relationships and get to know the fervent North Marion wrestling supporters that would be there to greet him in June.
"It's awesome, I couldn't ask for more support," Sheppard said. "It's so sweet coming into a really good place."
A two-time Oregon state qualifier, it was a serendipitous opportunity for Sheppard, who had direct experience wrestling against the Huskies in high school. Stayton and North Marion were conference rivals when Sheppard was one of the top competitors at his school. He was a fourth-place finisher his senior year in the 138-pound bracket of the 2012 state tournament, running into four-time state champion Lucas Randall in the semifinals that year.
The Huskies went on to finish fifth overall as a team that season, part of a nine-year stretch in which the wrestling program boasted eight top-10 finishes, five of which were in the top five. Sheppard wants to see North Marion return to those annual heights as a 4A wrestling power under his leadership.
"I want to get this team back on track, because when I wrestled back in high school, North Marion was really tough," Sheppard said. "They were a tough team with big numbers, and I want to get back to that."
Part of that is through community outreach, building the system through its youth program at the Mat Club and getting young athletes invested in North Marion wrestling early. Sheppard wasted no time in getting started, hosting an outdoor wrestling camp on the high school football field on June 25-26. Holyoak pitched the idea to Sheppard, who embraced the idea, and brought former McMinnville state champion and NCAA DII qualifier Jared Sublet to help coach elementary school athletes in the evening, followed by middle and high schoolers under the lights at night.
"I was like, oh yeah, that's a sweet idea," Sheppard said. "I wanted to get in front of these kids right away and show them I'm serious. I want this to be fun and unique."
While Sheppard has yet to fill out the rest of his staff, a difficult task to do while he was in North Dakota, he was able to cultivate his goals for the program while finishing up at Minot State. State champions, annual contenders, a quality program — all that is part and parcel with leading the Huskies. But more importantly, he wants to use the wrestling program as a way of building the student athletes under his tutelage into becoming better people when they leave the confines of North Marion High School.
"I want to prepare kids for life," Sheppard said. "That's the big thing for me, because not every kid is going to wrestle in college. Prepare them for life and to be good people. Make it a big family, year-round wrestling, having fun, breeding good kids and tough wrestlers."
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