Jackson,27-year wrestling coach, retires

By Matt Phelps

While training methods, uniforms, hair styles and even genders have changed in the Mercer Island High School wrestling program since 1977, one thing was constant: varsity head coach Paul Jackson. But that is changing as well.

The long time coach announced Friday, at a party in his home in front of about 40 friends and parents, that he is retiring as the school's varsity wrestling coach.

``I tried not to call too much attention to it because I did it once before,'' said Jackson. ``But it is the right time.''

Mercer Island High School assistant wrestling coach Creighton Laughary is Jackson's pick to take over the program. Jackson said that he was thinking about retiring last year, but the time wasn't right.

``Creighton and his wife were getting ready to have a baby or I would have done it last year,'' said Jackson, who added that his main reason for retiring is so he can spend more time with his family. ``I really hope Creighton gets the job.''

Jackson retired in 2000 from teaching and coaching due to cancer, but decided a year later that his passion for coaching was too strong to make his departure permanent.

``I didn't know how to react,'' said Jackson. ``I didn't know what my energy level was going to do.''

His choice to return resulted in back-to-back league championships for the program in 2004 and 2005.

Jackson leaves one of the strongest legacies of any coach at the high school.

``He has developed a program that is the envy of schools around the state,'' said Mercer Island High School athletic director and WIAA president Craig Olson. ``He has had an awesome career.''

Six 3A KingCo wrestling titles, while coaching multiple boys to state championships is just a few of his statistical achievements. But coaching was never about championships, for Jackson, who was named ``a coach that makes a difference,'' by a local TV sports program this season.

``Mercer Island has never been a wrestling hotbed, but I never thought about leaving,'' said Jackson. ``I couldn't think about coaching against my kids here on the Island.''

That loyalty to Mercer Island, and more importantly the loyalty to the wrestlers on his team, was the backbone of championships.

``I look back and he has taken some kids, who quite frankly had some problems, and he worked with them,'' said Olson. ``I think he was the reason they graduated.''

Brad Rorem had the oppertunity to be coached by Jackson as a student at Mercer Island High School and to be an assistant coach the past two seasons.

``He is intensely competative,'' said Rorem. ``But his competative personality never interferred with his appreciation for the individual and his love for the kids.''

The program is more of a family, as former wrestlers often come back to help with present-day teams.

``I think the thing I love the most is my relationship with the kids, particularly after wrestling,'' said Jackson. ``I like watching them go on to achieve great things.''

Jackson's legacy rivals that of his two friends and fellow coaches at the high school, Ed Pepple (basketball) and Dick Nicholl (football). Jackson was also the Mercer Island High School football team's defensive coordinator under Nicholl from 1977-1999.

Look for a special retrospective on Jackson's career at Mercer Island High School in next week's issue of the Reporter.

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