Checotah wrestling’s berth is recent, but started a few years before Cade Shropshire moved there as a kid having grown up in Moore.
When Shropshire graduated this spring, he left behind a standard by which the program’s future competitors will be measured.
This year’s Phoenix Male Athlete of the Year, in the closest vote in the 17-year history of the award, leaves with back-to-back state championships and some impressive numbers in two other sports, one he played for the first time in his high school career this spring.
His second state championship took some extra grit, due to knee ligament damage that had to be battled through from a regional match on. His knee popped out of socket in the state championship match and after some medical attention, he fought on and won a 3-2 double overtime win at 160 pounds against Tyler Lavey of Marlow.
Shropshire was 77-1 in his final two seasons, his only loss this season was to a Class 5A champion.
While he had over 2,000 combined rushing-passing yards in 10 games at quarterback, making All-Phoenix honors at that spot while playing as a two-way starter (also at safety) and in his first year of high school baseball, stepped in and hit over .314, wrestling is the centerpiece of his Checotah years.
One sport he didn’t play was basketball; ironically, a sport that his dad and uncles excelled in at the small town school of Hanna.
“My mom, his grandmom, always hated my boys wrestling,” said Kelly Shropshire, Cade’s dad. Cade’s younger brother Logan also wrestled for Checotah this year.
Hanna didn’t have wrestling, though. The Deer Creek area in Edmond did, though, and that happened to be one of the sports that Courtney, Cade’s mother, competed in.
“My dad (Eddie Farmer) started the Deer Creek youth wrestling program and I would go with him to meets. After watching it, I decided to wrestle, which I did into high school,” she said.
While the number of girls opting to wrestle have increased over time, creating more opportunities for girls-only tournaments, that wasn’t as much the case back then, yet just like now, there’s a resistance from guys to wrestle against girls.
“No one wants to see their kid lose to a girl,” Kelly said.
Cade’s half-brother, Steven Fernandez, won a state championship at Newcastle as a junior and was runner-up as a senior. He inspired a 4-year-old Cade who along the way, watched him wrestle in various meets.
“Cade would roll around on the mats and stuff at practices and well, Steven was already taking him to tournaments. So one time we just stuck him in novices and well at that age most kids don’t know if they’re winning or losing, they’re just having fun, but he was winning most and he continued to enjoy it,” his dad said.
Football came into the picture at 5, Cade recalled.
“Football became a mutual passion,” he said. “We went to tournaments in Texas and one of the teams we played one time was a team Emmitt and Deion Sanders’ kids played on. I remember being on a TV show in Oklahoma City with (former OU quarterback) Charles Thompson) when we won the city championship at Moore one year. I was one of two picked to be on it. Those were pretty cool times. “
Soon, his father’s job situation changed. He retired from a state job and went to work for a consulting company. They wanted to move back near family and wanted to be near a lake.
That made Checotah a preferred destination, but it wouldn’t have worked out that way had it not had wrestling.
“They’d started it at that point, but I think had that not happened I’d wound up at Fort Gibson or Wagoner,” Cade said, noting both locations brought their share of lake area options, as well as established mat programs.
As he got into high school, he began to realize he needed to get bigger, a point driven home when he was competing for the quarterback job going into his junior year.
“I knew I could wrestle and not have to worry about my size. But I needed to put on 20-30 pounds for football, and to me, the hard work required to do that the right way pushed me to be better in both sports, just the discipline of it,” he said.
“And that also translated to hours studying film and those kinds of things you need to do to get better.”
Cade threw for 1,400 yards his junior season. This past year he had 1,545 yards passing and rushed for 776 with 14 touchdowns. With a five-way tie looming for the district championship, Checotah lost out on a playoff berth in the most competitive district in 3A on the final week, losing to Lincoln Christian. Defensively at safety, he was second on the team in solo tackles and fourth overall.
“He’s a great young man with great leadership skills and work ethic,” said Chad Hendricks, Checotah’s head football coach. “He’s one of those kids who will be successful at anything he attempts in the future and one of those kids I’m going to look forward following and will be one of his biggest fans.”
Brett Olsen, a first-year wrestling head coach at Checotah who formerly directed Bacone’s program, said Shropshire’s value to the team went beyond his success on the mat.
“My coaching staff amounted to me and a part-time assistant,” Oleson said. “Cade filled a role as a type of assistant. He was all business. He was always the first to practice. If anything needed to be done, like cleaning the mats, setting up cones for the pre-warmup drills, he was on it. He helped others, picking them up.”
That made an impression on his coach that coming in new to the program, Oleson didn’t necessarily expect.
“When I got there, my approach was that Cade wasn’t the team, he was a spoke on the wheel. But after having him in the weight room, I saw he saw things similarly,” Oleson said.
“He’s a humble kid, an extremely humble kid. You’d never know he was ever a state champion. He put his head down, he was always a leader. A lot of kids want success, but with some it’s a get rich quick scheme. In other words, if I work hard an hour in practice every day it’ll get me there.
“But it’s also the three-mile run when no one is watching. That was him.”
Cade’s legacy will exceed his humility, though, the coach said.
“He was a spoke on the wheel. But he laid a foundation here,” Oleson said. “He made it cool to wrestle. We have kids in this program that want to wrestle now that didn’t want to before Cade did what he did.”
That kind of magnetism earned him the title of Mr. Checotah, an award given by the senior class for total impact as a student in all phases of student life – socially, academically, extra-curricular. His GPA was 3.9, which earned him both a wrestling and academic scholarship to Ouachita Baptist.
“Cade could have played anything. He qualified for state in track as a junior but wanted to give baseball a shot,” his father said. “Baseball before never really caught on with him. He always told me it was too slow a sport for him.”
It gave him a shot, though, to work with Wildcats baseball coach Tom Butler, who happened to be a cousin. Cade served as a utility infielder, his spot dictated by the pitching rotation.
“Even though he wasn’t one of the front-line guys because of his inexperience, the time he put in was off the charts,” Butler said. “He was MVP of the Dewar Tournament and it really surprised him, because he really didn’t know how good he could be in baseball and then all of a sudden he kind of just blows up a bit.”
He hit over .500 in the tourney and had five doubles, and made some web-gem stops at third base that caught the attention of the coaches who voted. The Wildcats won that tournament.
“Checotah didn’t have soccer, or he might have tried that,” said Kelly Shropshire. “The one regret I had as a dad was not pushing him in golf,”
Farmer, Cade’s grandfather, died of cancer long before Cade won a title in the sport he had the passion for to bring to an entire community of young kids.
“There would have been nothing that would have made him proud,” Kelly said. “It’s one of those situations where you go, ‘you know he’s watching in heaven,’ but that’s kind of the way you have to go about that.’”
River Simon of Vian was his school’s valedictorian and like Shropshire, a All-Phoenix football standout and a state champion wrestler. He, along with Wagoner’s Ashton Bartholomew, All-Phoenix in football and basketball and a state champ in both the long jump and high jump, joined him as finalists, all within a voting point in the closest vote by Phoenix staff and correspondents in the history of the award. Three points went to the top selection of the three, two for second and one for third.