Long was star wrestler before coaching

Published 10:07 am Thursday, August 8, 2019

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Perry Long has the unenviable task of following Buddy Lowery as Davie’s wrestling coach. Lowery, who retired in June, built a monster of a program over 43 years, winning 913 matches and three state championship with an .870 winning percentage.

“I’m going to try to continue a good wrestling legacy from coach Lowery,” Long, 46, said. “Buddy told me: ‘Just coach like you’ve been coaching (as an assistant) and everything else will take care of itself.’ He said he’ll be there. Him being there and being able to talk to him is good for me.”

Dr. Mike Webb, who coached wrestling at Sun Valley High years ago and retired as Deputy Superintendent at Union County Public Schools in 2016, is a firm believer. When he talks about Long, the genuine affection he feels for him are evident.

Webb said: “The most exciting thing for me is being able to see Perry grow not only as an athlete but also into such a fine man. He’s truly one of the most gifted athletes that I worked with as a wrestling coach. But it really pales to him as a father and as a coach now.”

Long became a Sun Valley immortal by winning the 3-A championship at 171 in 1992. Long’s heroics gave the Spartans the team championship as well. He owes his success to Webb, who introduced Long to the sport as a fifth grader.

Long: “My dad passed away with I was 5. Dr. Webb took a group of kids and we did freestyle. He took us everywhere. They didn’t have middle school teams. Everybody worked out at the high school. We were on another mat while the high school practiced. We did whatever the high school did.”

Once Long became a freshman at Sun Valley, he wasn’t an immediate star. He paid his dues in jayvee and prelim matches.

Long: “I got a little bit (of mat time). I couldn’t beat the 152-pounder. I think he ended up placing pretty high. I gave him all he wanted in the (practice) room, but I couldn’t beat him.”

As a sophomore, Long broke into the starting lineup at 152 and 160, but baptism-by-fire experiences were pretty regular.

Long: “(Webb) would bump me up. I was one of those guys that nine times out of 10 I was going against a tougher kid and we tried to split points. Coach Webb was juggling and strategizing. If I couldn’t get a win, stay off my back.”

Long blossomed as a junior, earning a state ranking at 171 and roaring to fourth in the state.

“I wrestled all that summer,” he said. “When I started my junior year, I was ready to rock and roll.”

In the 1991 state meet at the Greensboro Coliseum, Long lost in the semifinals. In the consolations, he was on the doorstep of a bronze medal. Then came a devastating knee injury; he tore his MCL and ACL and had to settle for fourth.

Long: “It was bad. It was in the third period with a minute left when it happened. I was up 3-1 and I couldn’t finish. The Charlotte Hornets sports doctor did my knee surgery. Surgery took six or seven hours. As soon as I could I started rehabbing, swimming and riding a bike. Then I started doing light jogging.”

The knee did not recover in time for the start of Long’s senior season in 1991-92. He missed the “first 15 or so matches.”

Long gave the knee a test drive at Piedmont. The opponent was High Point Central’s Chris Townsend, who happened to be ranked No. 1 in the state at 171. A rusty Long lost 2-1, which suggested he could be something fierce when the knee completely healed.

Long: “Dr. Webb said: ‘I don’t care if you win or not, we just need to know how you wrestle.’ I wasn’t 100 percent, but (Webb) wanted to see what I looked like.”

Long was operating at 100 percent when the state tournament commenced at the Greensboro Coliseum, and that meant he was basically half-man, half-tank. He got a rematch with Townsend in the semifinals. The result was different this time, Long winning 5-3.

The 171 final was a showdown between once-beaten Long and unbeaten Bryant Ward of D.H. Conley. The year before as a junior, Ward finished second in the state at 160.

Long: “Ward (illegally) slammed Victor Bell of Kings Mountain in the finals.”

Long’s performance against Ward is the stuff of legend. He not only beat him, he rendered Ward as just another guy. He pinned him in 19 seconds and lifted the Spartans to a co-championship; Statesville and Sun Valley both finished with 80.5 points. Long picked up the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler award and road a white horse straight out of the building.

Long: “I ran a spladle. He shot in on the knee I had my brace on, and nobody had shot in that deep on it because I always kept it back. That was my drop leg. Well, when he shot in, he held it and held it. I said: ‘He ain’t even doing anything.’ So I tucked his head in and hit the spladle and it was just a split second. I think it kind of surprised him when it happened.”

Webb: “Going into that last match, it was going to take a pin for us to win the state championship as a team. In Perry’s bracket, the top four seeds were undefeated. It was probably the toughest bracket in the state meet. So it was not only a special moment for Perry winning the state title, he was a vital part of the team winning it all as well.”

Going into the match, Long knew anything less than a pin would not be enough for Sun Valley. Although Webb tried to lighten the psychological load, Long embraced the pressure.

Long: “He said: ‘I just want you to win your state title. We need a pin to win it, but that’s not the most important thing to me. I want you to win it for you.’ I said: ‘Man, I’m trying to win it for everybody.’”

After lifting his team to the mountaintop, the first person Long hugged was Webb.

Long: “(Webb) wrestled in Ohio. I stayed with him some. I would go to Ohio to visit his mom and dad. In Ohio he finished second in the state four years in a row. The same guy beat him in the finals four years in a row. He never had kids until I graduated from high school; I was like his only son. I traveled everywhere with him. He would send me to any camp I wanted to go to. I went to a camp in West Virginia.

“My senior year I didn’t play football because I knew I needed to get back healthy for wrestling. I came from a single (parent) home and I knew I needed to win the state championship to have a chance to get a scholarship. I won it and Gardner-Webb offered me a scholarship. That was big for my family. I had a little sister who ended up going to Pfeiffer University. Being the oldest, you wanted to set an example for your younger sibling.”

Long wrestled two years at Gardner-Webb.

“I’ll never forget, we were at the (North) Carolina open,” he said. “When you come in, you think you’re big time. When you get in there as a freshman in college, you’re really not that good. You get humbled quick.”

Long quickly got into coaching. He was an assistant for Webb when Sun Valley won a dual team state championship. He replaced Webb and spent one year as head coach. It was a memorable year, a first-place finish for the Spartans and a Rocky River Conference Coach of the Year award for Long.

Then the Longs moved to Raleigh. A few years later, he appeared at South Davie Middle and made Davie County his new home.

Long: “My wife went to school here and her parents were living here. Man, I hated Raleigh. It was too much traffic. I helped coach at Millbrook a little bit and helped out at a private school. It just wasn’t the same in that area for me. We came down here and at first I started working with my father-in-law. He was building houses. I told him: ‘I’m going to get back into coaching.’ I talked to Dr. (Robert) Landry and talked to Howard (Riddle, who was South Davie’s wrestling coach for seven years). Howard said: ‘Yeah, come on.’”

When Riddle moved to Davie to help Lowery, Long took over at South. He guided the Tigers from 2004-05 through 2016-17, achieving eight winning seasons in 13 years. The highlights were 13-2 and 10-3 records in 2007-08 and 2008-09, respectively. He moved to Davie and assisted Lowery the past two years, with Russell Hilton going from assistant to head coach at South.

Long: “I knew Russell would be fine. All the kids on the team loved him.”

Long is greatly admired by Justin Miller and Preston Robertson. The former South Davie wrestlers said Long could be firm and gentle at the same time.

“Coach Long is passionate about the sport,” said Miller, who went 13-0 as an eighth grader in 2005-06. “When I started wresting (in seventh grade), I had never seen a wrestling match in my life. I didn’t know whether to start in the standing position or down position on all fours. My first year he coached me to third in the middle school states, and my the eighth-grade year he had coached me up well enough to be ranked first in the middle school states. He coached me up well enough that as a freshman I was a starter on the varsity for coach Lowery. There were many times my first year that coach Long would step in and actually run a move on me to show how the move was supposed to be done. He didn’t care if you were a starter or a pre-lim, he pushed us all to be better. I’ve seen him take money out of his pocket to buy kids wrestling shoes or buy head gear for the team. I’ve seen him drive 30 minutes to an hour out of his way to pick up a kid that wanted to wrestle. Coach Long made sure he never left a kid behind that wanted to wrestle. If you wanted to wrestle and were willing to learn, he made sure you were able to get to practice and the match.”

The sentiments were echoed by Robertson, who wrestled at South from 2012-14.

“The one thing that I think is most important about Perry is no matter what you needed or no matter what kind of day you had or how good or bad you did in the match, it was: ‘Let’s get after it again,’” Robertson said. “He still loved you. He would always work with you. You always made sure you were doing good in the classroom. Anything you needed, he was there. He was not only a coach, he was your friend. He was a father figure for many people. Every day he would take kids home. He did that at Davie, too. He’s just an outstanding person. Wrestling helped my feet and hands tremendously. I hated wrestling practice. Mountain climbers and running around that mat wasn’t any fun, but I’m absolutely glad I did it. He’s a good fundamentalist, too. His coaching methods are good. I always thought it was easy to learn from him. He was a father figure to kids who didn’t even wrestle. He’s just a great guy all around.”

Webb offered this glowing endorsement.

“I never saw a young man work as hard at his craft as what Perry did,” he said. “Perry attended multiple wrestling camps through the summer and was really, really committed to being a successful competitor. I can’t tell you enough about his work ethic. He was a leader in the wrestling room, he was a leader in the locker room and he was a leader within the school. When the lights came on, you could see the intensity and competitor come out in him. As an athlete or as a coach, nobody can outwork him. So the conference better get ready. I commend the school system for being able to promote that talent from the inside.”