The final regular season dual was a celebration 50 years in the making for the Carl Junction on Feb. 1.
The wrestling program celebrated its past that started during the 1973-74 school year by inviting back former coaches and wrestlers in the final dual of the season.
It was perhaps poetic that Carl Junction won 50-24 over McDonald County.
The history of the program featured five top-four finishes, including a runner-up showing in 1989 in Class 3A. There have been 12 state champions and two of those were repeat champions: current Missouri wrestler Jesse Cassatt and current head coach Mike Frizzell.
“It is pretty special,” said Frizzell, who is in his fifth year at the helm of his alma mater. “It is special to have them in the house (the alumni) to see where the program has grown and to the guys that paved the way. We wanted to give them good recognition.”
The start of the Carl Junction wrestling program started in Columbus, Kansas.
The school district had hired a pair of coaches from the Titans, Gary Watts and Jack Heflin. They were coming over together to work with the football team and start a wrestling program.
Watts was the head coach of the football program from 1973-79.
During the football season, Heflin talked to some of the football players about giving wrestling a shot.
“None of us had ever seen a wrestling mat; we didn’t know much about it,” T. Mark Elliott said, one of four seniors on the inaugural team.
Elliott was at the festivities on Feb. 1, as we Clint Smith.
The two shared a special bond more than 50 years ago when they were on that first team. Elliott was the heavyweight and Smith was the 185-pound wrestler — meaning they wrestled together in practice.
On top of that, they were neighbors and Elliott often gave Smith a ride home from practice.
Before the season started, Heflin would often talk to Elliott about how his background in basketball. He even went as far as looking at Elliott’s background in basketball.
“He checked how many times I found out the year before,” Elliott said. “I never could keep from fouling out. I was never real good at basketball, but I played.”
Heflin saw the potential in the lineman that he could bring to the team. He told him it would make him better if he wanted to play football after high school.
The practice mats arrived the Monday following the end of the football season in 1973 at the old junior high — which had been torn down and replaced. The team was essentially a program without a home at first, with matches against other teams at a variety of gyms in the R-1 School District.
Clearly, before social media, you just had to show up at one gym and try to find if you found the right place.
Watts and Heflin were ready to build a program and gave the seniors one option to stay with the program. By Christmas break, they would have to have a .500 record or better.
“A bunch of us didn’t know a thing but we were competitive,” he said. “There were a couple of times we got our brains beat in.”
All four of the seniors kept their spots by winning more than half of their matches.
“Coach Heflin found a way to light my pilot light if you will,” Elliott said. “He was a tough coach, but he was fair.”
Elliott ended up playing college football at Drake in Des Moines before coming back to play at the then-Missouri Southern State College.
After college, he got into referring and did everything from junior college, college and high school. He was at the state tournament one of the year Frizzell won a state championship.
“I think one of the greatest benefits of wrestling was moving into officiating,” he said.