Father and son duo take determination to state wrestling tourney

Evan Thompson tries to keep Squalicum’s Nick Foldenhauer down during the Everett Classic wrestling tournament. Thompson advanced to the final match in the 145-pound division, one of his most memorable moments of the season.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Evan Thompson tries to keep Squalicum’s Nick Foldenhauer down during the Everett Classic wrestling tournament. Thompson advanced to the final match in the 145-pound division, one of his most memorable moments of the season.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Jim Thompson is tough on his wrestlers.

He’s quick to admit it, too.

He demands their best, even when the South Whidbey wrestlers don’t agree. The retired Marine and Vietnam War veteran knows his grapplers and sees their potential. From the seniors who he coached for the past six or seven years, to a handful of first-year wrestlers, he wants the same thing. And it’s not wins.

Getting them to see and pursue their potential is his job, gift and curse.

At times during the season he could only hang his head and shake it after a loss. At other times, he would hang his head and shake it after a win, too.

The match’s outcome wasn’t coach Thompson’s main goal. Winning was important, sure. Improving and reaching potential was more important.

Perhaps no other Falcon wrestler in his eight-year tenure has endured the coach’s passion more than Evan Thompson, his son.

“When I coach Evan in the corner, I don’t enjoy it, to be honest,” the coach said. “Because I want him to win so badly and I feel so bad for him, that it’s really hard for me.

I used to threaten that I wouldn’t sit in his corner, so I wouldn’t yell at him so much.”

Thompson said that his only coach’s misconduct penalty came from last Saturday’s regional tournament during one of Evan’s matches.

The 145-pound senior co-captain acknowledged that his dad is stricter and pushes him more than the other wrestlers.

“He’s probably harder on me than the other kids,” Evan Thompson said. “So I feel pressured, but it’s a good thing because I try to model myself after him.”

Even with the tough love, the wrestler knows the yelling and hollering stems from love. Spending 20 hours or more a week in practices, matches and tournaments with his dad this season, he said they grew closer.

“It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’ve grown so much closer to him, being with him all day at tournaments. Being able to experience these sports with him is a big honor.”

He was also coached by his dad during football season.

During the 2009-10 football season, his father was brought in as an assistant for South Whidbey football. The normal father-son roles were reversed at first, with the son teaching the father the Falcons’ plays.

In the Thompsons’ Langley home, Melene Thompson tries to maintain a distinction between coach and dad. Married for 25 years (and South Whidbey residents for 16), Melene is known as “Mrs. Coach.” She helps keep the balance on how stringent or lax her husband is with Evan compared to the other student athletes. She also had to appreciate the difference between “coach” and dad.

“Jim’s really had a wonderful and unique opportunity to be a stay-at-home dad and coach his boys, each one in their individual sport,” she said. Evan has a twin brother, Shane, who is a state-caliber golfer, and an older brother, Chandler, who is a full-time student at the University of Washington and enrolled in the platoon leadership class as a Marine.

The athlete and coach may bark at each other on the mat, on the field and even at home. But resentment doesn’t linger and doesn’t settle in. On senior night on Jan. 27 against Sultan, Evan remembers his dad introducing each senior to the crowd.

When it was Evan’s turn, the tears and emotion coach Thompson held back came out and he cried, a little. He saved the rest for after the dual meet was finished.

“It just means so much to him,” Melene Thompson said. “It’s been wonderful for him, but it also takes a lot out of him.”

Another bonding moment came at the Everett wrestling tournament at Everett High School. Evan made the finals in the 145-pound division.

“He was happy, I was really happy. We hugged and he told me he was really proud of me,” Evan said. “It felt really good.”

Last week, father and son shared another proud moment. After his last match at the regional tournament in Lynden, Evan hugged his dad and asked if he had just qualified for state.

“We kind of both realized that’s what he came for, that’s what we wanted,” the coach recalled.

Evan wrestled his first match on Friday, Feb. 18 at the Mat Classic XXIII at the Tacoma Dome.

Coach Thompson remembers his high school wrestling coach, a man who challenged him and respected him as a young adult. He wants to leave a similar legacy as a father figure at South Whidbey High School, even after his sons graduate in June.

For Evan, the man by the side of the mat is more than a coach and more than a father figure.

He is his father, and he’s in his corner.

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