2014 National Wrestling Hall of Fame banquet, Georgia Chapter
When: Sunday, Sept. 14, social hour at 3 p.m., banquet at 4 p.m.
Where: Hilton Atlanta Northeast - 5993, Peachtree Ind. Blvd. Norcross Ga 30092
For further information: Contact Paul White at email@example.com.
Tickets must be purchased by: Aug. 28
Cost: $55 general admission
John McCrary compiled a 236-94-6 record during his 20-year career as head coach of the Lumpkin County High wrestling program from 1986-2006. His wrestlers won seven individual state titles during that time, including a pair of two-time state champions, and he led the team to a state-runner up finish in 2001.
But his former wrestlers insist his impact ran far deeper than any numbers could measure.
“He can take someone and he can motivate them to do things that they never thought they could do,” said Josh Ghobadpoor, a four-time state finalist and 2005 state champion under McCrary.
Now the former Indians coach will receive an honor that goes well beyond numbers.
McCrary will be presented with a “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” award when he is inducted into the the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Sept. 14.
John Jarrard, who was McCrary’s first state champion in 1990, said McCrary prepared his wrestlers both physically and mentally, making them tough to beat in the third period.
“He lived what he preached,” Jarrard said. “He knew how far he could push somebody. He had the talent of knowing what he could get out of somebody.”
McCrary, now the physical education department chair and strength and conditioning coach at Lumpkin County High, said he took the most satisfaction from helping guys reach their potential.
“When you take a kid that may not be successful in some other sport and they find success in wrestling, that was a high point,” McCrary said.
Nathan Hand moved to Dahlonega from Texas before high school and said McCrary took him under his wing and inspired him to be a better wrestler and person. Hand won state championships in 1991 and 1992.
According to Hand, McCrary was a “no-nonsense” coach who stressed accepting responsibility, with the results showing both on the mat and beyond.
“He certainly did not allow you to make excuses,” Hand said.
One of the most telling moments for Ghobadpoor came when he won his state championship as a junior, two years after losing in the finals as a freshman, After shaking the opposing coach’s hand following his state title win, Ghobadpoor found McCrary.
The coach wasn’t taking the moment to bask in the glory. He handed Ghobadpoor a cellphone to speak with his mother, Rosemary, who was battling cancer and was not able to attend the state competition.
“That meant the world to me,” Ghobadpoor said.
Jamie Moss earned state titles in 1992 and 1994 and was third in 1993. He said McCrary preached the importance of doing things the right way, that nothing was ever a failure if his guys carried themselves with sportsmanship and a high work ethic.
Moss called McCrary a “father figure” and “disciplinarian” in addition to his role as coach. At the age of 38, Moss still calls McCrary and asks him for advice while raising his three boys. Even with their relationship as friends, the way he addresses McCrary hasn’t changed in 25 years.
“To this day, he’s Coach McCrary to me,” Moss said. “And he will always be Coach McCrary to me. And that’s a compliment.”
Ghobadpoor was an assistant coach for Lumpkin County High for four years and the middle school head coach for three years. Now, he’s teaching at Gardner Newman Middle in LaGrange.
Even when he looks back to wrestling at Dana College in Blair, Neb., Ghobadpoor said it was McCrary’s variety of practice techniques that prepared him. Sometimes it was carrying rocks, and other times it was running up hills. The wrestlers never knew until the day of practice.
“It really kept us on our toes and kept us at a peak level,” Ghobadpoor said.
McCrary, a 1981 Lumpkin County High graduate, also previously served as head golf coach for nine years and softball coach for a year, plus a stint as athletic director from 2004-09. He now works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as well.
He calls his recognition by the Hall of Fame “a tremendous honor” but deflects credit.
“It’s really something that all the wrestlers I had, they won it for me,” McCrary said. “It’s not anything in particular I did. It’s them. All the good coaches make it about the kids. That’s really the reason they’re successful.”
Moss said McCrary is a leader by example, and Ghobadpoor said nobody worked harder than the coach’s teams. His wrestlers thrived on winning for him.
“To be able to win a state championship for him is like making your parents proud,” Hand said.
Eric Head also won a state title for McCrary in 1995.
McCrary also built and reinforced the confidence of his guys.
“I was probably overconfident from the time I started wrestling, and he never allowed me to think any differently,” Hand said. “He always allowed me to believe I was that good.”
McCrary’s influence still looms large for his wrestlers all these years later. At the age of 41, Jarrard has great respect for his coach and understands why his fellow wrestlers seek him out.
“That’s how much they think of him,” Jarrard said. “They want his advice still, even today. He’s not a coach of wrestling anymore. He’s a coach of life.”