Helias wrestling honored for greatness

Former Helias wrestling coach Mike Jeffries gives a speech Sunday after the Helias wrestling program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

Former Helias wrestling coach Mike Jeffries gives a speech Sunday after the Helias wrestling program was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. Photo by Kris Wilson.

A few years ago, Mike Jeffries was on a trip to Springfield.

Jeffries, who was the president of the Missouri Wrestling Coaches Association, decided to take a tour of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame with his wife, Patti. And after going through the facility, he had a question.

“We walked around and I wondered where wrestling was,” Jeffries. the longtime head coach at Helias High School, asked.

Well, it’s there now as the Helias wrestling program was inducted Sunday night into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

“I don’t think you could find a higher honor for the program,” Jeffries said. “The Sports Hall of Fame is so well known and there’s only one other individual honored for wrestling.

“For us to be the first program to be honored is very special.”

The Crusaders captured 12 state titles under Jeffries and in a 26-year period, Helias finished lower than third just one time at the state championships.

After a series of near misses at the state tournament, Helias claimed its first title in 1982.

“I was at the rail (at the Hearnes Center) and coach (Ray) Hentges said he thought we had it locked up,” Jeffries said. “I didn’t want to hear it unless it was a sure thing and when it was, there was a little tear shed of relief and joy.”

The last of the 12 came in in 2003, Jeffries’ final season as head coach. Helias held a 1.5-point lead against Farmington, which had one wrestler left in the finals. A win would give Farmington the title. Jeffries couldn’t watch.

“I was out in the tunnel and I heard my daughter scream and holler and she came running toward me, with my son about two steps behind and my wife,” he said. “It was the first time I could ever really celebrate with my family first, which was pretty neat.”

The Helias program has been a big influence on the sport, not only locally, but around the state.

Jeffries said approximately 30 former Crusaders who wrestled under him are either coaches or officials in the sport. In addition, Helias brought the Granby system of wrestling to Missouri.

And there were programs that studied what Helias was doing. Studied it very closely.

“Coach (Ray) Hentges always told me the greatest honor you could have was to have someone attempt to copy what you do,” Jeffries said. “I had coaches tell me they filmed everything we did to try to learn. And these were good programs.

“I think we had a very positive influence in Missouri in a lot of ways.”

The 1982 title started a state title run at Helias. In the next 20 years, the school claimed 16 titles in sports other than wrestling.

“I think winning that title showed the rest of the school that if wrestling could do, we could do it in other sports,” Jeffries said. “When you look at the state banners in (Rackers) Fieldhouse, you can see that after we won that first one, the state titles started coming.”

Jeffries hopes Helias’ induction will pave the way for other wrestling individuals and programs.

“There are certainly more deserving around the state,” he said. “Hopefully, we have opened the door for people in wrestling.”

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