Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald
George Darrow is surrounded by his wife Gay along with family members, from left: Kolton, Keaton, Kim, Gary, (Gay), Kaleb, (George), Jay, Katie and Grant.
By Brett Nachtigall
EDGEMONT – For the past 40 years, one name has been synonymous with the sport of wrestling in the town of Edgemont. And that’s George Darrow.
Last Thursday night, April 4, in a surprise public presentation secretly coordinated by his son Jay and other family members, Darrow was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award plaque as part of the school’s annual Fall & Winter Sports Awards Night, held in the gymnasium.
During that special recognition, Jay categorically asked everyone in the stands who had ever been positively impacted by either his dad George, or his mom Gay – the two have been married for 51 years – to come down out of their seats and join him on the floor.
By the end of his speech, the bleachers, which were once filled to capacity, were left mostly empty, with nearly all those attending now on the floor and looking up to George, who sat silently in surprised awe.
“Before I read this very special plaque I want you, George Darrow, to see all of the lives that you have affected in this community,” Jay stated from the podium, which was followed by much applause from the audience which had gathered around him.
George Darrow was raised on a ranch near Dewey where he went to school in a one room country school house, which he traveled to by horseback with his younger sister Bonnie.
During Jay’s speech, he described how his dad George was 7 years old when he was diagnosed with Polio and ended up in the West River Children’s Hospital and Polio Center in Hot Springs, where he stayed for about six months. His parents, Norris and Beryl Darrow, traveled from Dewey to Hot Springs three times a week for more than three months until they were able to administer the physical therapy necessary for George to make a full recovery and return home to the ranch.
“That is where the real work and dedication paid off because no matter who was crying, Dad, Grandpa, or both, they completed that physical therapy and hot bath treatment twice a day for the next four years,” Jay said. “He wore corrective braces on his legs until he was 11 and was released from care by the doctors at the Polio Center when he was 11 years old.”
Later in George’s youth, to facilitate his dream of being a wrestler like his father, George’s parents purchased a house in Newcastle, Wyo., so that he could go to high school there and participate in the sport, which was not offered in Fall River County at that time.
There, he was on the wrestling team for four years, but only qualified for state in his senior season. However, that year, he upset the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded wrestlers to capture the 138-pound state championship.
His success in high school garnered him an opportunity to wrestle for Chadron State College, which he did for two years. After graduation, and a marriage to his wife Gay, he then served in the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam, before making his way back to South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base and back to his family’s Fall River County ranch, and then ultimately impacting the local youth sports scene for the next 40 years.
George said what he likes most about the sport of wrestling is what is can do for an individual’s confidence and independence in all aspects of life.
“You can take any kid, who maybe has only wrestled for two or three years, and it will give them a sense of independence,” he said. “When they step out their on the mat, there might be 1,500 people in the stands, with moms and dads screaming and yelling, but its still just up to them.”
“It doesn’t matter what they decide to later – if they’re in a school play or basketball or whatever they do – they’re not going to be afraid to be there.”
George also described how easy it is for him to watch other sports, like football, and be able to pick out what athletes have also been youth wrestlers, by the way they move and position themselves to make a play.
Wrestling made its first appearance in the community of Edgemont in 1979, when Darrow – who was then working for the railroad – along with other community members like Pat Marshall, John Krueger, Steve Doerr and Steve Kocer, started the Edgemont Youth Wrestling program. Those first practices were also made possible through a connection with the wrestling coach at the South Dakota School of Mines, who gave the Edgemont wrestling program some old canvas mats, which were then set up in a small room next the stage in the gymnasium.
That very first year of youth wrestling in 1979 saw the team qualify three athletes for the state tournament in Mitchell, including Craig Smith, John Hoffmister and George’s son Jay Darrow.
This past March 2019, despite only having a handful of wrestlers on his team, George Darrow, at the age of 72, wrapped up yet another successful season of coaching AAU wrestling to Edgemont youth.
“And until I can’t, I’ll probably just keep on doing it,” he stated last Friday, in an interview the morning following the school’s awards night where he was honored.
Even though he has coached the last two seasons of Edgemont AAU wrestling by himself, he’ll be the first to point out that the fact that there is wrestling even still being offered in Edgemont is due to far more people than him alone.
“I could name names after names after names, of the people who helped get it done,” the modest Darrow said, as he described how there were at one time 62 kids from Edgemont who participated in the youth program, between the ages of 6 and 14.
“That was when the mill was running strong and the railroad was running strong,” Darrow explained.
He added, that at that time, Edgemont was being led by several young adults who wanted to see the community grow. So adding new youth programs like wrestling was a part of that movement as well.
Darrow recalled how, every weekend during the season, he and some of the other coaches would round up all of the boys early in the morning and drive them to the meets in time for weigh-ins. Then later in the day, their families and friends would then make the drive and cheer on their kids.
As the program grew and the need for more equipment and supplies were needed, Darrow said there was eventually a community-wide fundraising effort that paid for a new wrestling mat.
Over the course of Darrow’s leadership of the youth program, his son Jay stated during awards ceremony last week that his dad helped coach numerous state youth champions, many of whom got their start in Edgemont but then went on to state titles elsewhere. Some of the local past state champions he helped coach, Jay said, include Darrell Harrod and Rick Clapham, along with six-time state AAU youth champion Jessica Tubbs, and two-time state AAU youth champion Chance Grill.
This past high school season, Grill, who was a senior on the combined Edgemont/Custer varsity wrestling team, undoubtedly utilized the skills he first learned as a youth in Darrow’s wrestling room to earn a school record 52 wins on the year en route to a third place finish in the 2019 State Class “B” Wrestling Tournament.
The success of Edgemont’s youth wrestling program in the late 1970s and early 1980s then spawned an effort to get the sport into the high school, which happened in time for the 1984-85 season.
“I can’t say I instigated that,” George said. “There were a lot of parents who wanted to get it started.”
Darrow explained how he was working full time for the railroad at the time, but helped volunteer coach Pat Marshall get the boys to and from the meets.
In that first ever season, the Mogul wrestling muscle was made up of Robbie Rood, Lance Russell, Brian Broeker, Jay Darrow, Les Denny, Bob Wallace, Nick Porter and Brett Jarman.
Jarman would go on to qualify for state in that first year, and then place sixth overall.
Jay Darrow spoke during his dad’s awards night presentation how the program continued to grow and earn respect until its glory days in the late 1990s when they had Edgemont wrestlers placing at the State Tournament every year. With reduced numbers in the school, the high school program was disbanded after the 2001 season. The coach at that time was Randy Redetzke, who is now the assistant coach for the Hot Springs High School program.
George Darrow credited Redetzke for keeping the high school program alive for as long as he did.
Despite losing wrestling at the high school level in the early 2000s, Darrow’s youth program remained in tact which ultimately helped pave the way for history repeat itself in 2012. That is when – much like it did in 1985 when the community rallied to first make wrestling a school-sanctioned sport – a number of parent volunteers like Jeff and Diana Grill, worked with Darrow to approach the Edgemont School Board about developing a junior high program.
That then grew into a negotiated co-op agreement with Custer for a combined team that started with the 2015-16 season. This past year saw a total of four Edgemont wrestlers contributing to that team’s overall success, which ended in a school-best fifth place finish at the 2019 state tournament.