Blaine wrestling coach Craig Foster has a reoccurring joke with his family. Every time he’s garnered some sort of accolade this past year, they say he is “simmering in his glory.”
Truth is Foster is quite humble, but given the frequent praise delivered his way since Blaine won a Class 1A state title last winter in dramatic fashion, there’s been plenty of reason to bask in his achievements.
Roughly eight months ago Blaine senior heavyweight Mikey Antczak beat Chewelah’s Dustin Olson 5-1 at the Tacoma Dome during Mat Classic XXVI to win a heavyweight state title while simultaneously capturing the Borderites’ first state title in Foster’s decorated 23-year Blaine career.
That same tournament, Foster was selected Class 1A Coach of the Year.
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The team state title was a crowning achievement for a coach who’s dedicated nearly his entire life to the sport he lives and loves. He received countless congratulatory messages from former wrestlers, fellow coaches and colleagues following the championship, but it was a call he received late August that truly took him by surprise.
Foster got a call from Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame Director Jim Meyerhoff, notifying him he’d been selected to the WSWCA Hall of Fame.
“You don’t really know how you are going to feel when you hear something like that, but I was elated,” Foster said. “It was really an exciting time. I was jumping around, home alone. I was kind of a kid again. It was fun.”
Foster’s induction ceremony will take place Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Wash., as part of the annual Northwest Wrestling Coaches Clinic. Former Auburn and Mead High School wrestling coach Scott Bliss and former Steilacoom wrestling coach Chris Wolfe will join Foster to complete the 2014 class.
Foster’s wrestling career is both extensive and impressive.
As a wrestler himself he placed fourth in the 1974 California State Championships for Los Alamitos High School before continuing his career at Cypress Junior College and then Eastern Washington University where he earned his teaching degree in physical education. At both Cypress and EWU he earned All-American honors.
Foster’s coaching career has spanned 34 years. He coached in California, Oklahoma and New York before in 1991 settling at Blaine High School, where he’s been every year since.
That’s 23 years of stressing over weigh-ins, wrestler availability, spending 14 hours nearly every Saturday during winter at wrestling tournaments throughout the state. It takes a special level of commitment to dedicate so much time to developing young men’s skill and character, but for Foster coaching wrestling is far from work.
“It’s always been there for me,” said Foster of wrestling. “I struggled when I was young and made some bad decisions when I was a young guy, but I always had wrestling. It was my true north that got me back on track.”
Foster only attended college because of wrestling, he said. It led him to a degree that allows him to teach and coach. For 40 years now, wrestling has been the constant in his life. He likened Saturday morning wrestling tournaments to being a kid at Christmas.
“I get up and get to see my friends in coaching,” Foster said. “I get to see my kids, and I’m hoping to see a breakthrough. You basically get to be embroiled in what you love to do for 14 hours of a day.”
And most seasons, Foster engineers some of the strongest teams in the state.
At Blaine he’s coached 71 state placers and 11 state champions. Three times his teams have placed among the top five, including two runner-ups, and last year the big breakthrough came with Blaine earning its first state title since 1990. The Borderites own a 122-49 dual record under Foster and longtime assistant coach and best friend Jim Rasar and him started the ultra-competitive Battle at the Border tournament in 2000. He’s also a four-time state coach of the year.
Given the magnitude of success, Foster has collected countless memories throughout the years.
But two in particular are most precious to him, and both memories he plans on sharing with the audience at his induction speech. The first is guiding the Borderites to their state championship last year, which came down to the last match of the entire Mat Classic. The other is a neat anecdote in which Foster helped resurrect the program between 2002-2006.
“Back in 2002 or so, we had the worst team in the state,” Foster explained. “We had seven kids wrestling and some of those were brand-new wrestlers, and I remember lining up against (Ron) Lepper and Mount Baker with five only available to wrestle. Basically the program was almost extinct.”
Foster explained, while Blaine is traditionally known as a wrestling-crazed school, Luke Ridnour graced Blaine’s gym during the early 2000s, and kids began embracing basketball more than wrestling.
“You would talk to kids, ‘Hey, do you want to wrestle?” Foster said. “And they’d laugh, because they all wanted to be basketball players. I was trying to figure out what happened, and literally the program could have died. I mean it was that down.”
But instead of giving in and calling it a career, Foster fought and became determined to return the program to prominence.
He met with a group of young wrestlers ranging from fifth to eighth graders, vowing to them they would be the foundation for a new era in Blaine wrestling. He plastered the slogan WTF 2002-2006, standing for worst to first from 2002-2006, on the Borderites’ wrestling gear. The kids embraced the motto. In 2002, Blaine finished 78th out of 80 teams at state. The Borderites took 14th in 2006.
“Digging out of that hole was the thing I am the most proud of probably, because that was the foundation for the success we’ve had,” Foster said. “I look at it like saving a program. They really bought in, and it was pretty cool. They are still the tightest group of kids I have ever coached.”
Foster also praised the community, his administration, his family and his dedicated wrestlers for helping him achieve a Hall of Fame-worthy level of coaching.
“This whole thing has really been fun, and it’s a great honor to go into the Hall of Fame like this,” Foster said. “It just seems weird, because I don’t think of myself like this. It feels funny sometimes, but it will be a fun club to go into.”