The old practice room at Oak Grove High School probably sums up the Panthers wrestling program the best: It resembled an Army concrete bunker, wedge into a roughly 38 foot-by-38 foot area and no apologies.
“You could build up heat and humidity in five minutes,” longtime assistant coach Clif Cromer remembered. “And it was funny when we’d open up the doors because they opened out into the basketball gym. Guys would walk out with sweat and blood all over them, and the basketball players would just be staring at them in disbelief.”
From that room rose one of the state’s premier organizations as the Panthers won a state-record 17 state championships from 1984 to 2017 and produced 86 individual state champions. In short, it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct the Oak Grove High School Wrestling Program with the Class of 2017.
The induction is part of the Enshrinement in Independence presented by Great Southern Bank, set for Sunday, November 12 at the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center. (For tickets, call 417-889-3100 & see information below.)
Overall, four Panthers were four-time state champions, 19 were undefeated champions and 14 were high school All-Americans. Team-wise, Oak Grove has had 31 top four state tournament finishes.
Which is another way of saying that the competition within the practice room – a new, larger facility opened around 1990, by the way – arguably became as challenging as any dual or tournament.
“There would be groups where one guy is a state champ, another guy is a two-time state champion and another guy is a state placer,” said Bobbe Lowe, a 2000 graduate who was a three-time state champion and went on to win a juco national title and was a two-time All-American at the University of Minnesota. “You all had the same goal. There was no hiding. You had to keep up with the Joneses or fell to the back.”
Consistency has been Oak Grove’s hallmark, as only two coaches led the program from the fall of 1983 to the spring of 2017. Bob Glasgow coached the Panthers to 12 state titles and retired in 2009 after 25 years on the job. Lowe returned and led Oak Grove to five state titles between 2010 and 2017.
The program started in 1974 and, a year later, Leland Loux took over after having wrestled and coached in Iowa. He mentored the team’s first state champion, Russell Gaston, who won the 167-pound weight class in Class A in 1979.
Yet the program hit its growth-spurt after Glasgow’s arrival for the 1983-1984 school year. A blue-collar identity came to define Oak Grove Wrestling.
“If you talk to anybody in wrestling, they will tell you Oak Grove is known for takedowns and the crossface series,” Glasgow said. A crossface is just that, as a defender runs his forearm across an attackers face, usually the bridge of his nose. “We were defined by our takedowns and wrestling on our feet. We wanted to score early and build a 4-2 or 6-1 lead.”
Lo and behold, Oak Grove won its first state title in Glasgow’s first season, and the community rallied to the cause.
Soon, Oak Grove’s youth program exploded, eventually becoming an important feeder into the varsity program.
Over the years, former Oak Grove wrestlers have taken turns leading the youth program, including John Giffin, John Phillips and Guy Cates. In doing so, the Panthers have won their state titles in part with talented wrestlers by surviving through the wrestlebacks and, thus, scoring points. Some years, Oak Grove won the tournament on Friday nights. Other years were squeakers.
“After we won it (in 1984), people would come by and say, ‘What do you need?’” Glasgow said. “I’d have a guy say that he would cover (summer) camp costs, and it just went on like that.”
For the state tournament, the high school would distribute 150 tickets to students. Eventually, Oak Grove fans overtook several sections of the Hearnes Center, from the front row to the rafters.
The team’s four four-time state champions were Matt Infranca (1991-1994), Brett Fry (1992-1995), Keith Dickey (2000-2003) and then Connor Brown (2014-2017). They are among an elite group of 26 wrestlers in state history who have won four state titles. Glasgow coached six NCAA All-Americans.
“(Success) kinds of feeds itself. You come into the room and see all the banners with all the years we’ve won it,” said James Morgan, Oak Grove’s coach in 2017-2018 and an assistant since 2004. “The way we have fun, kids come in, shake hands and want to wrestle.”
“Coach (Glasgow) set the bar high,” Lowe said. “He made us believe that, if we followed the plan, there was no way we weren’t going to be successful.”
Enshrinement in Independence presented by Great Southern Bank
When: Sunday, November 12 — Noon reception, 1 p.m. dinner followed by the program
Where: Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, 18011 Bass Pro Dr. in Independence, 64055
Inductees: Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Bill Maas, Kansas City Royals third baseman Kevin Seitzer, St. Joseph Benton and University of Missouri tight end Martin Rucker, former big-leaguer Bob Dernier, sports medicine expert Dr. Jon Browne, former Missouri Valley College and 1960s Boston Patriots star Ron Hall, longtime high school volleyball coach Lori Hanaway, longtime television sports director Frank Boal, Raytown High School swim coach Jim Aziere, former Mizzou Tigers quarterback Phillip Snowden, Platte County High School football coach Chip Sherman, Mizzou supporter Don Walsworth, former Paseo Academy basketball coach Willie Bowie, William Jewell track and field coach Darrel Gourley, retired Smithville High School girls basketball coach Diana Tingler, the Oak Grove High School Wrestling Program and wrestling coach Bob Glasgow as well as Northwest Missouri State University’s 1998 and 1999 national championship football teams.
President’s Award: Kansas City businessman James Roberts
Tables & tickets: Sponsorship tables of 10 are $1,500 and include an autograph print and recognition in the printed program. An individual ticket is $150 and includes a set of trading cards of all inductees. Numerous other sponsorships also are available, including congratulatory ads and trading card recognition.
Call the MSHOF: 417-889-3100