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The LaRue Wrestling Program

The Place
    In 1990, a transplanted yankee from Ohio, started the first ever wrestling program in LaRue County Kentucky.  LaRue County is a small rural county in central Kentucky located just 15 minutes east of Elizabethtown on the I-65 corrider.  The high school has 750 students and the middle school has 350 students.  "The biggest challenge I had the first year," recalls a chuckling Canter, "was to convince the wrestlers that there were not any ropes or ring invovled in real wrestling.  One of my first wrestlers, Dan Heady, was really disappointed in this fact.  So, many days, he would pretend there were ropes and a ring.  We may not have been very good in those early days, but we had a lot of fun."

The Philosophy

    According to Canter, wrestling is composed of two basic components:  attitude and work ethic.  "I can remember attending wrestling camps when I was in middle school and high school and at one particular camp, Dan Gable was there.  He talked about out working and out sweating your opponent and if you did that, you would be a winner," says Canter.  This work ethic is what he preaches to his team year round.  If a wrestler does not participate in a spring or fall sport, then they are required to lift weights and run.  Many of his wrestlers who do participate in fall football will show up at 6:30 am and run before school to prepare for wrestling season.  "In years past I have had several show up early before school and run," says Canter, "those kids are special kids and normally they are my more successful wrestlers."
    Summers are also important to the success of the LaRue County wrestling program.  The Hawks attend at least one team camp every summer.  "We have gone up to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota to attend team camps," says Canter.  "This is a time in Kentucky when very few kids are wrestling and you can get some very good experience and get better.  At a team camp, a team may get 10 duals or a wrestler may get up to 15 matches or more which is equivalent to half a season.  If a kids goes to two summer team camps, then after their second year, they will have three seasons worth of experience."  The Hawks also have summer lifting and summer wrestling that all wrestlers are required to attend.  "SUMMER SWEAT MAKES WINTER CHAMPIONS", says Canter.
    Intelligence and attitude are the final parts of Canter's wrestling philosophy.  "You can't be dumb and a good wrestler.  The classroom is very important and we stress grades a great deal.  One of the things I am most proud about our program is that year in and year out of all the sport's teams at the high school we have one of the highest team GPA's," says Canter.  "I also don't like quitters.  The only reason you give up a pin is because you quit.  There is no way that a person can hold your shoulders down on the mat for two seconds and if that does occur it is because you allowed it," says Canter.  A hard-nosed never say die attitude is what Canter teaches his wrestlers.
    The final part of the philosophy deals with physical attacking wrestling.  "I grew up admiring Dan Gable," says Canter.  "He was one of my idols and I followed his success closely.  I have attended several NCAA national tournaments over the years as well and the one thing that has always characterized Iowa wrestling is a physical, punishing, attacking wrestling style."  The Hawks are known for their physical style of wrestling and the Hawks are also known for their success on their feet.  It is a rare occurence to see a Hawk wrestler back up on the mat.  They are taught to move forward and attack at every opportunity possible.

The Triangle

    "A triangle has three sides and each side is just as important as the other," says the science mind of Canter.  "I have always envisioned a successful program having three equally important parts and finally in 2003, the coaches were able to implement all three sides."
    The first part was a committed core of high school wrestlers.  The program started in 1990 and most of the wrestlers who came through the program have been very committed to wrestling and their fiery coach.  But wrestling is a sport that the more a person has wrestled, the more successful they become.  Many of the kids that in the past have come out had to put a year or two in at the high school level learning the sport.  "It is very hard to be a first or second year wrestler and have success," says Canter.  "Up to a few years back that is what we had in our program."
    In 1999, Canter was able to implement side two of his triangle, a middle school program.  In 2003, the middle school team had 40 wrestlers on the team and were very successful as they were the state dual runner up and finished third at the middle school state tournament with 9 state placers, two of which were state champions, out of the 18 middle school weights.
    Then in 2003, Canter was able to implement the third side of the wrestling triangle, an elementary school program.  "That year (2003) we had our first ever elementary school program and it went very well," says Canter.  As was noted earlier, LaRue County is a small community.  The district only has about 425 boys in grades K-4 and in the first year of the elementary school program, Canter had 65 boys come out for wrestling.  The middle school team that year had 40 wrestlers in grades 5 - 8 and the high school had 28 in grades 9 - 12.
    "We have always been competitive, but my goal and dream is to be down right dominating," says Canter.  "All three parts are now implemented and rolling.  I can see a time coming very soon in LaRue County that a boy who has not been invovled in wrestling in the middle school years, won't have much of a hope of getting a starting spot in high school.  And when these elementary school age boys get to high school, wrestling from elementary school through middle school to me, well" says a smiling Canter, "I will have the program I have always envisioned."

The Success

    "I can remember when I was able to get the program started in 1990," says Canter, "that a very good friend of mine said that he liked me a lot and he hoped for the best for me, but wrestling would never catch on and I would never be very successful in LaRue County with wrestling."
    Those words are the furtherest from the reality.  In 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2011 Canter won the Kentucky State Dual Championship.  In Kentucky, at the state dual tournament there are no divisions and LaRue County with their 750 students must compete against the private boy's schools in Louisville and the 6A schools from around the state of Kentucky.  In 2001, 2002, and 2005 the Hawks finished the state tournament as the Class A state champions..  Canter has had six state champions, two all-americans, and one honorable mention all-american.  He has had eleven wrestlers to be nationally ranked.  Since 1998, there has been at least one nationally ranked wrestler on the Hawk's team.  The 1999 team finished the season ranked 10th in the Mid-Eastern region of the United States.  The Mid-Eastern region consists of the states of KY, WV, VA, NJ, MD, and DE.  His teams have won the regional title eleven times (99-07, 10,11)  In 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011 the Hawks were the class A state runner ups.  His teams have finished as State Runners Up overall, twice in 2001 and 2006 and have finished in the top five at the state dual championships eight times (third in 05, 04 and 00; fourth in 02 and 98; and fifth in 03) and in the top 10 overall at the state tournament thirteen times (1998 thru 2011).  In 2003, Canter saw his second wrestler (Scott Cooper) win his second state championship and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler for the state tournament.  In 2006, 2007 and 2008, the middle school team finished as the Kentucky state champions.  In 2003, 04, 05, and 09  the middle school team finished as state dual runner up and in 2005 and 2009 at the middle school state tournament the team finished 2nd, and in 2003 and 2004 3rd. 
    After the 2009 season, Canter has an overall dual record of 411-86. He has a lifetime winning percentage of 82%.  What is so amazing, is that during the first seven years of the program's existence, Canter's teams had a 32-62 record for a winning percentage of 34%.  Since then (1998), Canter's teams have racked up an incredible 374-23 record for a winning percentage of 94%.  Canter has also achieved some national recognition for the program as in 2000, coach Canter was named as the National Coach of the Year Runner-Up by Wrestling USA magazine.

    His teams have won a regional championship nine times in a row from 1999 to 2007.  In 1998, 2008, and 2009 his teams were regional runners up.  His teams have had two top ten national records:  2001 his team ranked 5th all time nationally in takedowns for a single season and in 2006 his team ranked 7th nationally in pins for a single season.  He has had six individual state champions:  Jason Detre (1998 and 1999), Jim Shaw (1999), Todd Allen (2001), Scott Cooper (2002 and 2003), Ozzy Parker (2006) and Darwin Perez (2007).  He has had two high school All-Americans:  Jason Detre (1999) and Scott Cooper (2003) and one high school honorable mention All-American: Todd Allen (2001).
    "For a small school we have been pretty successful," says Canter.  "I am proud of all that the team has accomplished over the years and it is not bad for a small rural public school, BUT, we have not accomplished all that I desire to accomplish.  I have 4 years left till I retire from teaching and coaching and I want to dominate those last 4 years and take this to the national stage.  I believe I can accomplish these goals with the hard-working kids that exist in LaRue County."