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Your Neighbors: Dowling coach Ron Gray has a lot to be proud of


coach-gray-1Was Dowling Catholic’s wrestling program the most dominant in Iowa high school sports history?


“We only had one dual meet loss during the decade of the ’80s,” says Ron Gray, former Dowling wrestling coach. He says that crosstown rival, Valley, was the only team to beat them during the entire span from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.

“We won 82 in a row, Valley beat us (in 1986), and then we won another 136 in a row.”

Gray knows something about dominance. He has won championships coaching three separate sports in his 39 years at Dowling Catholic High School. The list of coaches who can say that is short. He’s been inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and he was part of the dominant Dowling wrestling teams that won five state tournament titles — 1975, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1991.

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In 1987, Iowa added a dual state tournament.

“We won the first six,” he said. “And we were second in the seventh.

The Maroons went 210-1 during that span, and it might be the most dominant dynasty in Iowa high school history — the next longest dual meet win streak in Iowa history is 92.

“We wrestled the best. We didn’t duck anybody,” Gray remembers.

He says the teams often traveled to seek out the toughest opponents, even crossing state lines to face the best teams in Minnesota.

Gray was an assistant coach until he took over for legendary Bob Darrah for the 1989-90 season. He has also coached the boys’ golf team since 1989 and the girls’ squad since 2012.

He says he’s “old school” and admits to having done some “hollering,” but he has mostly discontinued the practice. He knows the value of discipline and attempts to teach his athletes to be respectful, to have accountability and how to be a cohesive team members.

Coaching girls is different than coaching boys, he says. And coaching kids in the ’70s is different than in the ’90s. And coaching golf is different than coaching wrestling. But according to Gray, one thing is always the same.

“We are going to teach life through athletics,” he says of the philosophy he and Darrah decided to use a long time ago. “You treat the student athlete with respect, but you hold them accountable for their actions and decision-making.”

That begins with getting the kids to buy into the system, he says. He’s been around long enough to see the process through and the fruit it has born. He enjoys when former students return. Gray recently had a former student visit a practice. He asked him to tell the current kids what he remembered about the program.

“I learned how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ ” the former student said.

Believe it or not, Gray’s proudest accomplishment isn’t the unprecedented winning streak. Nor is it any of the state titles in any of the three sports. In fact, it doesn’t involve a win at all — at least not directly.

“We’ve had kids who have stepped into the varsity lineup as junior varsity kids because of injuries and place at the state meet,” he says. “Probably the greatest was in 1991, my 171-pounder found out the day before districts he couldn’t wrestle — he’d gotten third in state the year before. We bumped up a reserve 160-pound wrestler.

“We coach the entire room.”

The backup at the lower weight ended up placing third at the state meet. Dowling went on to win the state tournament and the state dual meet.

“He accounted for 15 team points,” the coach recalls. “And we won by 14.” ♦


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