By Nick Hampton
Although the name on the door of the head wrestling coach has changed, new Muskogee High coach John Petty wants to make it clear that the program itself does not need nor will it get a major overhaul on his watch.
And while he still feels some bitterness about the controversy surrounding his hiring, the new coach is excited to turn the page as the Roughers kick off another wrestling season this weekend.
Petty comes to Muskogee after coaching in the private school ranks and earning a National Wrestling Coaches Association national title at California Baptist University. He takes over a program that for over 30 years was in the hands of outgoing MHS athletic director Bobby Jefferson with help from his sons, Shae and Dan. But despite all the success the program has enjoyed, Petty realizes that it’s bigger than any one coach.
“I don’t look at this as my program. This is the community’s program and I’ve just been picked to guide its continued success,” said the easygoing Petty.
He’s in the fortunate position of inheriting a program stocked with talent, including seniors Dawaylon Barnes and Jacobe Smith.
Smith, the Phoenix Wrestler of the Year in 2012, notes there are some differences in the coaching styles of Petty and the Jeffersons, but says it’s really more about how each individual wrestler approaches the change.
“This is the time to check and see if you’ve really got what it takes —if you’re going to put it out there and do whatever it takes to help make the team successful,” said last year’s state finalist, who has made a verbal commitment to wrestle for Oklahoma State.
“With the Jeffersons, we were wrestling around more and getting a feel for technique while with Coach Petty we’re more about building our strength and stamina and working our way up slowly.”
Barnes, a state semifinalist last year, says the change was a shock, but, like Smith, says it’s more about how the individual deals with it.
“Having had the same coach since I was a freshman, the change was a kind of shock,” said Barnes. “But it depends on your determination and personality to bounce back from the shock. You can’t let a coaching transition ruin your whole wrestling career.”
Petty, who admits to being booed, cussed, and even spit at over the course of his coaching career, still feels a little resentment about some of the reaction he got at the time of his interview.
“When I interviewed for the job, some of the kids were there supporting their coach and I respect that. But one gentleman, a coach, addressed me in a negative manner,” said Petty.
“I said ‘Coach you’re a wrestler like I am and we never run from a fight.’ I’ve used that incident to motivate me to do the best for these kids who were put in a position that they had no control over. I think Coach Jefferson deserves to be honored for his success by seeing the program continue to succeed.”
In addition to Barnes and Smith, the Roughers welcome back state qualifiers Chase Soper, Matt Acee, Elijah Pettey and James Buckhanan. Also back are Xavier and Xavion Taylor, Cori Andrews, and move-in Lantz Woodburn, whose brother, Gunner, wrestles at OSU.
The Roughers open the season this weekend at the Broken Arrow Open. The Green and White intrasquad match will be on Nov. 23 and the first home match will be a district encounter with Bartlesville on Dec. 3.
Petty’s goal for his first season as head coach is simple.
“They have a motto here about one percent; work to get one percent better every day. If I can keep the young men striving for that goal, then with our returning starters and newcomers, this program will continue to grow and thrive and succeed.”