Headed to the Hall

TWO GREAT COACHES, two great programs, one great school.

Now, two great honors.

It's about time.

Sunday, it will become official, something we've known for many years --- Ray Hentges and Mike Jeffries, for what they accomplished during their long, shining careers at Helias ---will enter the Hall of Fame.

This one is called the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, but they were Hall-of-Famers long before this induction. If you know them, you know.

Because these are two great men, both on and off their fields of battle.


IN NAME, IT'S the Helias wrestling program that's being inducted into the Hall of Fame during Sunday's ceremony at Capitol Plaza.

In reality, it's Mike Jeffries.

Jeffries was, is and will always be the program.

"Instead of just recognizing one, to recognize the 600 or 700 kids who wrestled for me is a lot more significant," Jeffries said. "Just to be there Sunday and speak on behalf of them, that's an honor in itself.

"It's great for our program. But for wrestling, in general, to get recognized this way is very important."

The Missouri Hall features just one amateur wrestler and four "professionals," including "Handsome" Harley Race.

"And we know what those guys are all about," Jeffries said.

Professional wrestling, as you know, is as phony as Joan Rivers' face.

There was nothing phony, however about what the Crusaders did under Jeffries:

* 12 state championships --- including 2003, his final season --- and a staggering 25 top-three finishes in a 26-year span;

* 37 individual state champions, including a state-record 17 during the 1980s;

* a dual record of 623-46-6, the nation's fourth-best, all-time mark;

* and 74 consecutive dual wins, still a state record.

Man, were they good.

"We had a lot of kids who believed in me and the system," Jeffries said. "We had great parental support, we had great support from the administration ... everybody was very supportive of me and the program.

"I demanded a lot out of our guys. I hate losing and any kid who participates in wrestling, seriously, feels the same way. We were proud of the school, and we were making the school and the community proud of us."

Ted LePage was one of those state champions for Jeffries.

"The thing about coach Jeffries, it was never you against an opponent," said LePage, a part of four state championship teams and an individual champion in 1985. "It was always Helias wrestling against the opponent; it was always about the team. It was all 13 of us against one guy.

"I don't know how he did that, how he made such an individual sport so team oriented."

LePage continued.

"He was never going to let you NOT be great. You had to live up to his expectations of what he thought "great" was for you, and he did that with each and every wrestler he ever had.

"Being a coach, that's an exhausting process, and he did it with 13 guys, year-in and year-out. The energy he put into it was just unmatched."

As was the success of this program, year-in and year-out. It got to the point that it was Helias vs. the World at the state tournament, as the Crusaders were showered with boos every time they stepped onto the mat at the Hearnes Center.

Thus came one of the catch-phrases for the program: "Those who can, do; those who can't, boo."

"We put that on a t-shirt," Jeffries said. "My wife, she's jogged for 25 years. She went down to Australia to see a friend who's husband had died, and stayed down there a month.

"Anyway, she was jogging on the beach one day and she was wearing that shirt, and she saw Sylvester Stallone with his entourage of people. As they were passing, he read the shirt and he loved it.

"He laughed and was talking about it to the other people around, and she modeled it for them. It was a neat experience."

Getting the nod from Rocky.

Great stuff, courtesy of a great coach and a Hall of Fame program.


LIKE JEFFRIES, RAY Hentges ended his career the only way it should have ended.

With a state championship.

"That was just a climax to the end of my career; you couldn't have written a better script for that," Hentges said. "Because I knew that was the finale."

That state championship victory in 1998 was the 251st and final win for Hentges during his 33-year career. And that win, he said, was the No. 2 highlight of his fabulous career, which had more than its share of highlights.

No. 3, he said, was the 1984 state championship team. The same year, the Jefferson City Jays also won a state championship, and Jefferson City became known as "The City of Champions."

So what was highlight No. 1? It was his very first game as head coach in 1966 --- the first of his 350 games with the Crusaders.

"That's the fondest of them all, when we beat Hickman, and we were the only team to beat them that year," Hentges said. "That will forever be etched in my memory.

"Because of the hard work of that group of young men, we were able to win eight ball games that year, when most people thought we'd be lucky to win two or three."

Then there's this: The 1979 team finished 9-2, and that's good. But that team set a then-national record of allowing just 255 yards rushing THE ENTIRE SEASON, a mark that's still No. 3 all-time.

These days, teams give 255 yards rushing in a game.

"To be honest with you, we weren't very good offensively that year, but we were pretty darn good defensively," Hentges said. "We had some good players that year; we had some pretty salty people in there."

Ted LePage was a salty, All-State player on the 1984 championship team.

"Coach Hentges was a great leader by example," LePage said. "He was always steady, never too high, never too low. He always took a very analytical approach to things.

"As a player, you never saw anything get to him. Anytime things would go bad, he would still look at the positives and try to get the best out of you."

Hentges actually won five state championships in his career --- two in football, three in golf (1983, 1993-94).

The 1983 team featured a wild-swinging sophomore.

"My son (Chris) was on that team and he saw this guy swing and said: "Dad, he's going way past parallel, you've got to straighten that out."

Ray laughed then, he still laughs now.

That wild-swinging sophomore was John Daly.

"I'll never forget that, that we needed to cut back his swing," Hentges said. "That was a special year."

Speaking of special, Hentges gives much of the credit for his success to both Helias --- he was in the last graduating class (1956) of St. Peters High School before the name was changed to Helias --- and Jefferson City as a whole.

"Needless to say, Helias was the center of my career and my family life, as well," he said. "All five of my children graduated from there, and I've had three grandkids graduate from there --- and there will be a fourth this year.

"The families in Jeff City are just special; you get into the big cities, it's just not the same. The Jay fans are as loyal to their programs as Helias fans are to their programs. Without the support of the community, the parents and the student bodies at both schools, I don't think any of us would have enjoyed the success we did.

"We just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

You have the feeling that anywhere would have been the right place and right time for Hentges, he's just one of those people. He's as good as it gets, good to the core ... to know him is to like him.

This honor proves that nice guys do finish first ... and they do get into the Hall of Fame.

Because Everybody Loves Raymond.


PETE ADKINS WILL receive the highest honor during Sunday's ceremonies, as he will become just the 25th person to be named a Missouri Sports Legend. Here is the link for that complete story:

Dennis and Roberta Licklider are also being inducted into the Hall for their successes with the Jefferson City track and field program. Here is the link for that story:

Bob Burchard has transformed the Columbia College men's basketball program into one of the best in the nation, and here is his story.

In addition, the following people/program from Central Missouri will also be inducted (more on them to come Monday) --- Tony Galbreath, football; Joe Crede, baseball; Dennis Higgins, baseball; Phil Bradley, baseball; Chris Leslie, sports medicine; Keith Weber, posthumously, baseball; and the Lincoln University track and field program.