Ron Lepper’s secret is out.
The Mount Baker football, softball and former wrestling coach may have one of the most intimidating, booming voices in Whatcom County, but he also has one of the biggest hearts in the area.
“He’s really misunderstood,” said former Blaine wrestling coach Craig Foster, who announced his retirement after last season. “To people outside the program, he’s this big, intimidating guy, but his kids and his community love him. He carries a big load in that community. He loves that community. ... People who don’t know him may not appreciate how great a coach he is.”
But the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association certainly took notice.
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After Foster nominated him last year, Lepper learned Thursday, Sept. 29, he was selected for induction into the association’s Hall of Fame, where he will once again join his good friend and competitive rival Foster, who was inducted in 2014.
“It was more emotional than I thought it would be,” Lepper said of learning of the honor. “It was very humbling. The first thing you think about is all the people that helped you along the way – all the support my wife has given me over the years, the sacrifices by my kids and friends, the coaches that got you going, the parents that supported you and the administration. You think about all the people that had a hand in the pot.”
Lepper will have his chance to thank all those people at a Nov. 5 induction ceremony in Yakima, and he’s certainly worthy of the honor.
While leading the Mountaineers wrestling program from 1994 to 2014, Lepper coached 100 boys and girls who placed at state and 14 state champions. He posted a 146-31 dual-meet record, including 107-21 in league matches, and led Mount Baker to 61 league dual-meet wins in a row from 1996-2005. His teams won 11 league, 13 district and 10 regional titles to go with the boys Class 2A state team title in 2000 and a girls state team title in 2008. The Mountaineers were runners-up three times and had 14 top-10 finishes during Lepper’s tenure.
Lepper also was selected Coach of the Year in the league 11 times, at a regional tournament eight times and state Coach of the Year in 1998.
Think that’s impressive? He’s also led the Mount Baker football and softball teams to state championship games in the past four years.
“What makes him so unique is he coaches so many sports,” Foster said. “For me, coaching wrestling was a full-time job, and I was doing it year-round. I wasn’t coaching kids all year, because that’s not allowed, but there are a lot of other things that go into building a successful program that you need to focus on during the offseason. It’s mind boggling to me that he was able to build such a successful program when he was coaching two other sports.”
Lepper said he’s noticed the difference not coaching wrestling the past two seasons, as he even got to take his family on a vacation during the holidays, giving him a chance to realize that “winter break does not revolve around wrestling practice for everyone.”
Before he stepped away in 2014, the sport was certainly a big part of his life. He wrestled at Cashmere High School from 1978-81 and Simon Fraser University from 1983-86. He became an assistant coach at Simon Fraser from 1986-87 and at Ferndale from 1988-89 before becoming the head coach at Vista Middle School in Ferndale in 1989 and at Palos Verdes (Calif.) High School from 1989-94.
Lepper said he’s excited to join the Hall with legendary coaches such as Bill Elliott and John Durheim, who coached him while he was at Cashmere.
“To be a wrestler that never made it to the state tournament, that’s a pretty big deal for me,” Lepper said.
He’s also eager to join Foster after using the Borderites as a target of excellence when he arrived at Mount Baker. Foster said it didn’t take Lepper long to make the Mountaineers competitive, as, “You could tell right away (it was) going to be a different program – the kids were more aggressive and got after it.”
When Foster’s program hit some hard times for a few years, he said he used the Mountaineers as an example of what to shoot for as he rebuilt the program.
“The great thing about Craig and I is we’d get our kids to compete like dogs on the mat,” Lepper said, “but what made it more special was being able to sit and talk during the offseason and not hold a grudge. We developed a great friendship. We worked together at camps and saw each other at tournaments and ate dinner with each other. He made me get better. It’s pretty special being inducted into a Hall of Fame that includes a coach like Craig Foster.”
Whatcom County connection
Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame members who coached in Whatcom County:
Mount Baker (1965-89)
Western Washington College (1972-77)
Mount Baker (1994-2014)