The yearly success that emerges from Oak Hill’s wrestling room can be attributed to many factors.
Years of hard work, self discipline and top-notch coaching and training provided by Andrew King and his assistants, some of whom learned the craft from King in years prior, are the obvious variables.
But the success of Oak Hill wrestling runs much deeper than just the work being done on the mats inside the sacred room.
Success is seeded in the culture King has helped create and develop in his 34 years leading the program. It’s rooted in the Golden Eagles’ support system.
Oak Hill wrestling is part school athletic activity, part family. And the lineage of athletes in King’s career has built up to the 2020-21 season, arguably the best in school history.
The Golden Eagles finished 22-2 in dual meets, won a 12th-straight Grant Four title and earned an eighth-consecutive Central Indiana Conference title.
Oak Hill won its 29th sectional championship, 17th-most in Indiana history, and had a dozen regional qualifiers.
Three wrestlers won individual regional titles and six advanced to semi-state, where Golden Eagles history was authored.
Senior Aidan Hardcastle became the first Oak Hill wrestler to be a two-time semi-state champion. Junior Brody Arthur was just the third wrestler in program history to win a semi-state title. Seniors Jett Thompson and Harper Dedman each qualified for the state tourney to give King and Oak Hill its largest-ever contingent to make the trip to Indianapolis.
The quartet scored enough points to win the program’s first-ever semi-state championship.
Soon after receiving the champion’s trophy, the group of 15 wrestlers and coaches to either participate or spectate the historic day headed to a corner of the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum to celebrate with their support system: parents, friends and fans who were able to attend.
“The Dedman family, the Hardcastle family, even as deep back as the Rosman family, those are three families that have dedicated their lives to Oak Hill wrestling,” said King, as he looked around at his athletes and their supporters, many wearing looks of disbelief by the accomplishment. “That’s what they do. For this to come out with Dedman and Hardcastle as seniors – going to state, that’s a great gift to them also – Someone’s hard work actually pays off.
“Thats what it takes for a great wrestling program is the families that are involved,” he continued. “It’s just a family affair at Oak Hill, and I’m proud to be a part of it. That’s all I am is a part, and everyone plays their part. That’s what’s neat.”
Following Oak Hill’s sectional triumph, King talked about the importance of having a family atmosphere in his program and simply the importance of getting to compete after dealing with COVID-19 at various points during the season.
He also recognized how difficult it was, for parents and kids alike, to not have families in attendance at the tournament’s opening round on Jan. 30.
“Let’s face it, what parent is good with not watching their son, his senior year or whatever, participate in sectional. None of them are good with it,” King said. “We’ve tried to focus on, and our parents are good with this, it’s about them competing, not you watching.
“I told (the team) in the locker room, ‘You’re going to have to live the majority of your life without your parents supervision, so you’re going to have to suck it up, buttercup, and win this sectional without looking up in the stands and getting approval from your mom and dad.”
And win they did.
One of the most interested observers during Saturday’s semi-state was Brody Hardcastle, a 2017 Oak Hill grad and older brother of Aidan. Brody is also an assistant coach under King and helps another former wrestler, Adam Perkins, run the junior high program.
The elder Hardcastle said he’s seen and understands how Oak Hill’s wrestling program keeps producing on a yearly basis.
“The core group takes younger wrestlers under their wings and really built a good, family culture here,” Brody Hardcastle said. “Something that is a traditional thing. We root for each other, everyone is on each other and we hold each other accountable. We wrestle our best when the time comes in that big moment.
“(King has) taught me everything, not only coaching – obviously coaching – but just how to be a good person,” he added. “How to conduct yourself with the refs, just little things you don’t really think about. He really took me under his wing, him and coach Chris Tarlton, they’ve helped me a lot and I can’t thank them enough.”
Like with any family, even in success, there are times of disagreement and angst. The voices in the wrestling room, particularly King’s, can get loud at times. Toughness is an obvious necessity for success in the sport.
“My family is not hugs and kisses all the time. Sometimes you treat your family worse than you would treat your enemy, so they see your full colors when you’re really upset or when you’re sad or you’re happy,” King said. “Yeah, it is a family. I yell at the kids sometimes. If there was a recording of what I say sometimes I probably wouldn’t be patted on the back, but I talk truthful to them.”
King also said he tries to refrain from using profanity to his kids, something he learned long ago from a former coach at DePauw, his college alma mater.
“Swearing and profanity is a feeble mind trying to express itself forcefully,” King shared. “I believe it’s a family. We have six seniors this year, really gonna miss the six seniors next year, but we have good, solid JV kids, underclassmen stepping. A great feeder program. Coach Brody Hardcastle and Coach Adam Perkins do a great job with the junior high.”
Ultimately success in wrestling, as with any sport, comes down to passion in the pursuit to be the best one can be. Passion has four Oak Hill wrestlers in the state championship this year, and has helped the Golden Eagle wrestling family sustain a level of success to which few others can lay claim.
“It is kind of like a family. There’s always arguments,” said Dedman, who returns to the state finals for the second time in the past three years. “You love them. You love them with everything. (King) has meant a lot to me the last 13 of 14 years of my life.”