High school teacher receives coaching award

posted on March 5, 2012

Red Cloud High School math teacher and longtime wrestling coach Clay Leonard has been selected by his peers to receive a regional coaching award. At a wrestling tournament on February 18, fourteen other regional wrestling coaches voted by anonymous ballot to bestow Leonard with the annual award. He was selected for his commitment to the sport, longevity as a coach, and his track record of success. Leonard will formally receive his award on March 24 at the State AU Championship tournament in Aberdeen, SD.

Leonard has been coaching wrestling here for 24 years. Before his nearly quarter-century tenure at Red Cloud High School, he spent a decade working and coaching in Rushville, Nebraska and in Colorado. Like most Red Cloud coaches, his primary job at the school is that of a teacher. Leonard is the head of the high school Math Department, and teaches classes such as trigonometry and AP calculus. He is also the high school’s Assistant Principal for Academics, overseeing all scheduling and grading-related concerns.

Leonard’s students invariably talk fondly and admiringly of him, both as a coach and as a human being. As senior Tyrell O’Donnell put it, “Clay is a very caring person who wants to see you succeed at everything you do, not just wrestling.” When asked what the most important aspect of wrestling he learned from Leonard during his four years on the team, Sylas Running Eagle ’12 said; “[He taught me] how to constantly be moving during a match.” But Leonard’s instruction extended beyond the edge of the mat. Running Eagle said that in general, he “learned how to accomplish challenging tasks, because wrestling is such a challenging sport.”

Coaching wrestling may be more challenging still. For one, the sport lacks the exceedingly high level of prestige associated with basketball in the local community. Also, according to Leonard, South Dakota wrestling is extremely tough, because his wrestlers generally began competing in middle school at the earliest, but they are often going up against opponents who have been wrestling since they were three or four years old. Furthermore, he says that Red Cloud is now a member of the Black Hills Conference (as of this year), which places a higher emphasis on dual matches, as opposed to multi-school tournaments. And finally, Leonard faces the perennial problem of getting kids to come out for the team in the first place, either because they are nervous about the prospect of wrestling, or because their priority is basketball.

Despite these challenges, however, Leonard has persevered and he continues to create a rich legacy among the students who have worked under him.

Blake White, a former Red Cloud parent whose son Kyle wrestled for Leonard back in the 2000s was effusive in his praise, saying, “Clay is probably the most dedicated coach I’ve seen, especially for not having such a big team. He really cares about his students a lot. He would do just about anything for those kids.”

Any and all of Clay’s former students and parents would doubtless say the same.