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After 23 years, 476 wins, five State Duals championships and countless other achievements, one coach’s legendary career is quickly coming to a close.
LaRue County’s Gary Canter is retiring at season’s end, and the longtime coach and his family were honored prior to Wednesday’s dual against Oldham County.
The usually reserved Canter couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed walking onto the mat with his family – wife D.J., son Caleb and daughter Hannah – by his side as fans and former wrestlers gave him a standing ovation.
“It’s very flattering,” Canter said. “It’s a great testament to the program that we have, and I’m just glad I was part of it. It’s a great group of kids and it’s really nice seeing all the former wrestlers and getting to break the huddle with them one more time. It’s a great culmination to a lengthy career.”
And a pretty good one, to boot.
Canter’s teams have won 12 region titles and three small-school state champion-ships. The Hawks have produced eight State titlists and 73 State medalists. Eleven wrestlers have been ranked in the top 25 nationally and two – 1999 graduate Jason Detre and 2003 grad Scott Cooper – have been named All-Americans.
Several of his former wrestlers were on hand Wednesday for Canter’s final home match, including Detre – who won LaRue County’s first state title in 1998.
“It’s good to come back and just remember the times we had together and re-member the dedication that Coach Canter has put into the sport,” Detre said. “It’s a special night. We get to see him coach his final home match and Caleb wrestle in his final home match. I don’t think you could write a better script than that. He’s such a storied coach with a storied history. It’s a great honor to be able to be back home and be with people that love this sport and Coach Canter and all that he did for the sport.
“I think it’s going to be a bittersweet ending,” he added. “He’s got to feel honored about all the people and former wrestlers coming here for this. As he always says, we’re Hawks forever and we have that family atmosphere. I think that’s what he’s going to take away from it. No matter how long he’s away from the sport, he’ll al-ways have family here in LaRue County.”
Family is what the Hawks always have been and always will be – no matter who’s coaching them.
Detre said that’s a big part of Canter’s legacy, which will be felt around the pro-gram and school for years to come.
“I don’t even know if you can measure how big a legacy that is,” Detre said. “He’s impacted all of his wrestlers in some way and helped them to have a more positive outlook on life. That legacy will be long-lasting for generations to come.”
Oldham County coach Aaron Riordan, who said he faced Detre in one of his first matches as an eighth-grader, considered it an honor to face the Hawks. He’s always admired what Canter has been able to accomplish at LaRue County and would like to emulate that success.
“It didn’t turn out very well, but I’ve always remembered it and I’ve always looked up to Gary as a coach and how he handles his program and interacts with his kids,” Riordan said. “The results he’s had is just a byproduct of how he does things. For us to come in here and get an opportunity to wrestle them in his last dual match is special. I’m glad I could be here for that ceremony.”
Looking around the gym before the match started, Canter was surprised at the turnout. For someone who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, it meant a lot.
Seven of LaRue County’s state champions – Detre, Todd Allen, Drew Newberry, Bernard Ray, Darwin Perez, Jim Shaw and Ozzy Parker – and the team’s six seniors were also honored.
It made for emotionally draining night for the man behind the program’s success, who really didn’t want this night to be about him. Canter instead wanted the focus to be on Caleb and fellow seniors Nathan Bell, B.J. Carman, Spencer Hines, Tanner Mouser and Jared Whitlock.
“I’ve had a lot of phone calls and a lot of sappy emails today,” Canter said. “I’m like ‘Gosh guys, I’m not dying, I’m just retiring.’ It’s been an emotional day, but it’s what we expected. I’m just glad to be here.
“It’s touching, it really is,” he added. “It’s something you don’t ever want to see end, but like I said earlier, it’s time to move on. Everyone has their timeframe and I think it’s the end of the road and time for me to turn the reigns over to someone else with more youth and vigor and see what they can do with it.”
Whoever is tabbed to take over the program will have some big shoes to fill.
It may take a while for the team to adjust to life without Canter, but Detre is con-fident the new coach will instill the same values Canter has over the years.
“He taught me the value of hard work and determination and seeing things through to the end. In life, those are important skill sets,” Detre said. “You’re not always going to have everything you need in life, but it’s how you work through those – that adversity – and come out on top. That’s a skill Gary taught all of us, and it’s a skill that I will keep for a long time.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.