By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
The relationship between a father and son can be a tricky one.
You have those relationships where the two don’t get along and resentment sets in over the years. But there are also those special relationships. Ones where a bond is fervently glued together for an eternity.
That’s the type of bond that assistant wrestling coach Rusty Elliott has with his sons and the entire North Marion wrestling program.
“Just move the coffee table out of the way and let’s start wrestling.”
Like most families who grow up with boys in the family, wrestling became an occasional way of horseplay in the Elliott family.
Rusty said that he and his brothers did it often during his childhood.
“When I was growing up, I had a brother that was two years older than me,” he said. “We’d throw the coffee table out and we’d go at it.”
The makeshift wrestling rings created in the living room housed many a wrestling match, Elliott said.
Rusty went on to explain the various memories he and his brothers had created that undoubtedly came with the occasional black eye or bloody nose, I’m sure.
“We’d scrap at it in the living room and we broke a few couches, but we had a good time,” the now-assistant wrestling coach explained with a smile.
Those memories, as simple as they may sound, are ones that Rusty will never forget.
“The times I had with my brother wrestling, it was great times and I’ll always remember it,” he said.
Now, though, those memories are shifted over to make new memories with his own sons, Ryan and Kyle.
Ryan, a senior on North Marion’s wrestling team, said that the impromptu living room rumbles helped shape him into the wrestler he is now.
“He used to take us in the living room and show us little things,” Ryan said. “And now it’s the same thing up to this day.”
Rusty now hopes that he can pass on the memories that he made with his brothers and show his sons that they’ll never be able to replace the new memories that they’ve made together.
“Those two guys can scrap it pretty tough. And they try to scrap with me, too, because I’d be showing them and they’d get upset, but it’s a family thing,” Rusty said. “But it’s memories and I tell them, these memories you’ll never forget.”
Rusty, an accomplished wrestler during his time in high school at the 132-pound weight class, has watched his sons, and even his wife and daughters, grow within the wrestling program over the years.
The one time Fairmont State football coach and athletic director called the North Marion wrestling program a family in and of itself, and said that the program has had a major influence on him and his family personally.
“Wrestling is a great sport. It’s a family sport,” he said. “As you can tell, everyone knows each other and everyone sits together. It’s a family thing itself, then within the sport, too.”
Rusty explained that both of his sons wrestle on the team this season, his wife has been heavily involved in fundraising and even his daughters have helped out by being mat maids for the team.
Now, Rusty has rejoined the team as an assistant coach this season.
The decision was an easy one, Rusty remembered.
“There was an opening. One of the assistant coaches couldn’t come back and coach (Dave) Tennant called me and said, ‘Listen. We’ve got a guy who can’t come back and I’m not sure who wants to coach and if you’d be interested, we’d really like to have you,’” he explained.
“And I said, ‘Are you kidding me? That’d be awesome.’ I’ve always wanted to come back and coach wrestling eventually. It’s really worked out well for us.”
The choice to come back to coaching, though, didn’t come without talking to his boys.
“I think they all knew what was going to go on. There’s not too many secrets in the wrestling family,” Rusty said. “You know when coaches leave and when coaches come, and you know who’s going to take the job and all that kind of stuff. It was something that we talked about.”
It was a welcomed outcome by the two sons, and they enjoy having their dad around at practices.
Ryan said the situation was “double-sided.”
“He gets on me (in practice) but I really like it,” Ryan said. “He knows what he’s talking about.”
Rusty called the opportunity a “dream.”
“It’s a coach’s dream come true. It’s really nice; it really is. Of course, I’ve coached them a little bit in the summer time and them growing up, but to actually be their coach and help them in practice every day and working with them, it’s great,” he said.
The stresses of coaching your kids, though, can be numerous.
Of course, there’s the notion that some parents might be easier, or tougher, on their own kids in practices. But Rusty said you have to know where the line is and balance it.
“They’re just like anybody else. They’re not my sons in practice,” said Rusty. “You’ve got to get on them and it’s just like that. So they’re not really my son in practice but just a kid who happens to be in that weight class or just happens to be there.”
Splitting the dynamic of father and coach can be even harder when practice is over and it’s time to coincide in the same living space. That’s another area where Rusty said you have to know how to control yourself in your dual roles.
“It’s tough on me because I have to be their dad and I have to be their coach, too,” Rusty admitted. “You get on them pretty hard in practice and then you go home and say, ‘OK, did you get your math homework done?’”
At the end of the day, though, Rusty said it’s all about family.
“We’re all in this together and we’re a family. It’s a good deal,” he said.
“I could be speechless.”
Last season, Ryan finished the season without a blemish on his record and basked in the twinkling of a state championship as a junior in the 120-pound weight class.
This season, despite the clatter of his senior year, Ryan envisions another championship by the time he unlaces his wrestling boots for the final time of his high school career.
While a state championship is pretty high on his wish list, this year if he achieves his goal, he’ll be able to share the moment with his brother and his father as part of the team.
Ryan said it would be the total package for him as a wrestler.
“It’d be awesome just to share that,” Ryan said. “It’s an awesome feeling in the first place, but to have that with them would be great.”
Rusty shared his sentiment, but let the father in him shine when he talked about the opportunity.
“Ryan’s a special kid. I’m so proud of what he’s done, not only athletically but academically,” Rusty said. “I’m so proud of him and, whether he wins it or not, I’ll always be proud of him because of the kind of man he is.”
The moment in March could be a special one, if Ryan’s hand is raised as the king once again of the AA 120-pound weight class, and both parties are looking forward to the opportunity.
“For him to win it again, I could be speechless,” Rusty said. “It’d be so heartwarming for me, having a two-time state champion and knowing how hard he works.”
“I couldn’t touch those guys.”
While Rusty built his own legacy as a wrestler at North Marion, now his sons are faced with the same task.
Asked if he wanted to have a better legacy than his father, Ryan smiled and said, “Hopefully.”
Rusty, though, has no doubt that his sons will surpass him in greatness.
“They’re a heck of a lot better than I am. I couldn’t touch those guys,” Rusty said. “They’re 10 times better than I ever was.”
While passing the torch on seems to be a tradition in sporting families, Rusty said it’s good for the program in general.
“It’s nice for the wrestling family, because North Marion is a wrestling family, and a lot of the last names keep coming back and back,” he said.
Now is the chance for the Elliotts to keep the tradition alive.
“Before, when I coached, there was always a name that came back, like the coach, then his son would come back and coach, and I thought it’d be pretty neat,” Rusty admitted. “And here it is 30 years later and I’m doing the same thing, coaching and my sons are here.”
“Become men in this sport.”
At the end of the day, wrestling, as most sports do, teaches you values.
“That’s something you try to teach them: to become men in this sport,” Rusty said.
That’s one thing Rusty hopes to accomplish by being both a wrestling coach and a father.
“Obviously a father wants to raise his kids and raise them right and try to be able to coach them, too, and show them things like that,” Rusty said.
The newly accepted position gives Rusty that chance, not only with his own sons but the rest of the North Marion wrestling team.
That’s what makes it a family.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.