Family bonds enhance Washougal wrestling program

More than 70 Panthers carry on ‘Tradition of Excellence’

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Tanner Lees takes down a Hudson's Bay Eagle on Dec. 6, at Hudson's Bay High School. After finishing in fourth place last season, the Washougal wrestler would love to reach the top of the podium at the Tacoma Dome.

When Tanner and Scott Lees stepped onto the wrestling mats at Washougal High School, they were, in a way, continuing their family tradition.

The boys’ father, Randy, has coached the sport since before they were born, and their older sister, Abby, wrestled in four high school state championship matches, won two of them and earned a junior national club championship.

Tanner is climbing his own ladder. He finished in fourth place at state last season and dreams of nothing more than winning it all his senior year. Last spring, he picked up a pole for the Panthers and vaulted to the state track and field meet. He also has competed in four state cross country races.

Washougal wrestling coaches John and Heather Carver have been building their own family in the practice room. John wrestled for the Panthers and graduated in 1983. He returned to his Alma mater 30 years ago, and has been teaching and coaching wrestling ever since.

“We are encouraged every year by all the boys and girls that show up and just want to work to be their best. That’s our motivating factor,” Carver said. “If we didn’t feel people wanted to buy into the work ethic and what we do, I think it would be easy to get burned out. When you have athletes that commit and work hard, it’s easy to work for them.”

After moving to Washougal 27 years ago, Rob Anderson joined Carver’s wrestling program at the high school right away. Carver said Randy Lees became their first state medalist. Lees and Kyle Eakins, his brother-in-law, have been coaching wrestling for the Washougal middle schools. Their children have grown up surrounded by the Panther wrestling program.

Heather Carver has been the head Washougal girls wrestling coach since 2006. There are 22 women on the team this season, led by captains Brooklyn Wurm-Wertz and Jaden Robb.

“How we all come together is like a family,” Wurm-Wertz said.

“I want these girls to remember us not only as captains but as their big sisters,” Robb said. “I want them to work hard. Even if they don’t win, I don’t want them to quit. I want them to like what they’re doing and keep coming back here every day.”

Tanner Lees and Tanner Klopman are part of an inseparable pack of Panthers. Most have at least two years of varsity experience. Lees, Klopman and Andrew Hopple share the leadership responsibilities as seniors, Jason Powell, Dakota Andleman, Mason Armstrong and Tristan Elliott are experienced juniors. Scott Lees and Cole Pass are determined sophomores.

John Carver said the challenge matches between these wrestlers for varsity spots have been exciting. Each day, these Panthers strive to live up to the “Tradition of Excellence” words on the wall.

“It’s all about attending practice every day and working hard to improve every day,” Carver said. “Wins and losses don’t determine our wrestlers, it’s the effort that they put into every match that does.”