After 39 seasons of molding championship-caliber wrestling programs, B.D. LaPrad figured he had one more challenge left in him before retiring.
The coach who had stints at Bishop England, Irmo, Dutch Fork and Fort Dorchester moved back to the Midlands this school year to build from scratch a program at first-year River Bluff High.
“I enjoyed starting up the program at Dutch Fork, and this is an opportunity to do it again,” LaPrad said. “Looking at it, there were a lot of things that appealed to me. It’s a great school district, and a beautiful new school with wonderful athletic facilities. The area had a strong wrestling background, so it’s not exactly starting from square one. And, there are very good programs close by in Lexington and White Knoll to give all of us somebody to chase.”
LaPrad said he’d like to try to guide River Bluff to the top quicker than he did at his other stops. Irmo won a state title in LaPrad’s fifth season, while it took four seasons at both Dutch Fork and Fort Dorchester.
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River Bluff is 15-7 in its inaugural season and will finish in second place in Region 4-3A. The rookie Gators, who are ranked No. 17 by scmat.com, lost to Chapin in what essentially was the region championship match on Friday.
“Chapin’s won a lot of region championships and wrestled like it on Friday,” LaPrad said. “We’ve never won anything yet, and we wrestled like it. But we’ve had a little bit of success, and we can build on what we experience in our first year.”
River Bluff’s veteran base features co-captains Hakeem Ferguson and Quint Baldwin, plus Hunter Forsyth and Levi Wright. Wright is ranked No. 6 individually at 195 pounds, while Baldwin and Forsyth are seventh at 138 and 152, respectively.
The Gators will take part in the Class 3A state playoffs in a few weeks. River Bluff moves up to 4A next season and will go head-to-head with neighboring Lexington and White Knoll.
LaPrad was an outstanding wrestler in Roanoke, Va. and in college. He wrestled at Trinidad Junior College and later earned NAIA All-America status at Wisconsin-Lacrosse.
Even though he hasn’t wrestled competitively in more than 40 years, he still relates to his youthful charges.
“I don’t get out on the mat as much as I used to, but I try to never forget as a coach what it takes for a wrestler to gear up to compete in what is a physically tough, mentally demanding sport,” he said. “I think I’ve learned through the years when it’s time to take the foot off the gas a little bit and when to put it to the floor. I also try to set incremental goals for each wrestler based on their level of experience and their skill level. The bottom line is the kids know I care about them.”
LaPrad has had success at every stop on his coaching trail — one season at Bishop England (1974-75), 17 seasons at Irmo (1975-92), 11 seasons at Dutch Fork (1992-2003), 11 seasons at Fort Dorchester (2003-13). He sports a 640-78 career dual match record and has led four teams to state championships — Fort Dorchester (2007, 2010), Dutch Fork (2003) and Irmo (1980) — and eight others to state runner-up finishes.
LaPrad-developed wrestlers have made it to the state title match at various weights 94 times with 58 gold-medal wins. The most notable of the group are three-time champions Josh Brindle and Kyle Kimrey of Dutch Fork, Robert Quinn and Seiji Borja of Fort Dorchester.
The return to the Midlands sets up an instant rivalry with Lexington and Wildcats coach Derek Strobel, who wrestled under LaPrad at Irmo and Dutch Fork — and is LaPrad’s son-in-law.
“Derek is the nicest guy and a wonderful son-in-law, but he’s as much of a competitor as I am,” LaPrad said. “We both want to win when we go up against each other.”
Strobel won a state championship as a sophomore at 103, was injured the following season and opted to follow his coach to Dutch Fork for his senior season instead of finishing at Irmo.
“He help start things at Dutch Fork from the ground floor,” LaPrad said. “Even then, he was the nicest kid you’d ever want to meet, but he had a burning desire to win on the mat. He’s done a great coaching job at Lexington and I know we’re both looking forward to competing in the region next year.”
LaPrad may have personal motivation. After winning the 2010 state championship, his Fort Dorchester team was eliminated in Lower State three straight years by Strobel and Lexington.