Greg Buckbee insisted that his son’s first foray into wrestling would only happen when Gabe entered kindergarten. As a high school wrestling coach — Buckbee has coached Arkansas City the last seven seasons — he didn’t want to put undue pressure on his son.
“I didn’t want to push it,” said Greg, whose team won Class 5A titles in 2012 and 2013. He also coached Ark City to the 2003 5A title and Emporia to the 2009 title.
“I’ve seen too many dads push their kids to the point where they don’t want to do it anymore. It just looked like they hated it. I didn’t want to do that to him.”
Gabe would have to get his fill of the sport by watching the duals and tournaments with Greg, then the Emporia coach.
But Greg and his wife, Susan, underestimated their son’s desire to compete.
“I forced my dad to put me in wrestling,” said Gabe, an Ark City freshman who is ranked second at 106 pounds. “Since I was 3 years old, I’d say, ‘Let me wrestle, let me wrestle, let me wrestle.’ I think he got annoyed with me and said, ‘Fine, you can wrestle.’ ”
Ark City will compete in the Class 5A wrestling regional on Saturday at Andover. Finals are expected to start at 3:30 p.m.; the top four in each weight class advance to the state tournament on Feb. 26-27 at Hartman Arena.
Gabe is 28-10 and nine losses are to out-of-state wrestlers. His lone Kansas loss is to Topeka Seaman’s Dawson Podlena, who is ranked No. 1 at 106 pounds.
Greg started wrestling at a young age in Emporia and was hooked.
“I loved it right off the bat,” Greg said. “It fit me to a T. I could make myself as good or as bad as I wanted. It’s all you out there.”
But his career was interrupted because he had Legg-Calve Perthes disease, which affects the hip in 1 in 1,200 children. He spent two years in middle school on crutches, and when he got home each day, he was placed in traction because his hip didn’t get enough blood.
Greg, who won the Class 6A 98-pound title in 1983 as a junior at Emporia, couldn’t wrestle past high school due to the disease. Ten years ago at age 40, he had a hip replacement.
But his passion for the sport didn’t wane, and he got into coaching.
Gabe was surrounded by the sport from birth. During breaks at tournaments, he was usually on the mat wrestling the high school athletes.
“You would often hear him coaching Greg’s athletes,” Susan said. “… When he had a chance, he was right next to Greg coaching.”
Greg coached his son when he could, and Gabe relishes the memory of eating biscuits and gravy with his dad after weigh-in.
I still remember the day he said, ‘Dad, what do I have to do to be really good?’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’
Ark City coach Greg Buckbee, Gabe’s dad
While Gabe enjoyed wrestling, he wasn’t a star.
“He was no prodigy growing up when he was first starting to wrestle,” Greg said. “He was an above-average wrestler. I never pushed him.… I think it’s important for him to know that I love him, whether he wins or loses, wrestles or he doesn’t. That he still has that love from me.”
Greg didn’t want any more pressure on his son, who already bore the weight of being the coach’s son.
“I had a parent say to me one time, ‘He’s got a huge advantage being a wrestling coach’s son,’ ” Greg said. “I said, ‘Excuse me? He doesn’t have an advantage. Can you image the pressure that’s put on this kid because of what you just said?’ ”
Gabe has born the weight well.
“He treats me just like his other students and wrestlers,” Gabe said. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Come on, dad! Give me some slack.’ Sometimes we get annoyed with each other.… At home, though we talk wrestling a lot and we watch (Oklahoma State) a lot. OSU, that’s our favorite.”
Their relationship changed when Gabe expressed his determination to get better.
“I still remember the day he said, ‘Dad, what do I have to do to be really good?’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ ” Greg said. “I told him that everything’s got to change, that I wasn’t going to be nice to him in the practice room.
Greg became more of a hands-on coach. Before, he had left it up to the club coaches. They focused on technique, as well as mental and physical toughness.
“Whenever he yells at me, it’s because he wants me to do something different that I’m doing wrong or get better,” Gabe said. “I need to take that and learn from that.”
Susan initially was concerned that the two would butt heads because they have such similar competitive personalities.
“We’ve done a really good job of keeping it separate, but there were some drives home that weren’t really pretty sometimes,” Greg said. “But as we pulled in, we were father and son again.”
Saturday’s Wichita-area wrestling regionals
Dodge City – Campus, Derby, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita Northwest, Wichita South, Wichita West
Wichita North – Free State, Junction City, Manhattan, Topeka, Washburn Rural, Wichita East, Wichita North, Wichita Southeast
Andover – Andover, Arkansas City, Carroll, Eisenhower, Goddard, Kapaun, Liberal, Maize South
Valley Center – Emporia, Great Bend, Maize, Newton, Salina Central, Salina South, Valley Center, Wichita Heights
Smoky Valley – Abilene, Buhler, Chapman, Clay Center, Colby, Concordia, Goodland, Hays, McPherson, Nickerson, Rock Creek, Smoky Valley, Topeka Hayden, Wamego
Rose Hill – Andale, Andover Central, Augusta, Circle, Clearwater, El Dorado, Holcomb, Hugoton, Mulvane, Pratt, Rose Hill, Trinity Academy, Ulysses, Wellington, Winfield
Beloit – Beloit, Bennington, Ell-Saline, Ellsworth, Hoisington, Lincoln, Lyons, Marysville, Minneapolis, Osborne, Palco, Phillipsburg, Pike Valley, Plainville, Republic County, Riley County, Rock Hills, Russell, Sacred Heart, St. John’s Military, Smith Center, SE-Saline, Stockton, Thomas More Prep
Cimarron – Chaparral, Cheney, Cimarron, Ellis, Fairfield, Garden Plain, Greeley County, Hill City, Hoxie, Ingalls, Lakin, Larned, Leoti, Moscow, Norton, Oakley, Oberlin, Rawlins County, St. Francis, Scott City, South Gray, Stafford, Sterling, Sublette, WaKeeney
Marion – Bluestem, Caney Valley, Canton-Galva, Central-Burden, Chase County, Cherryvale, Douglass, Erie, Eureka, Flinthills, Fredonia, Halstead, Herington, Hesston, Hillsboro, Humboldt, Independent, Jayhawk-Linn, Marion, Moundridge, Pleasanton, Remington, SE-Cherokee, Uniontown, West Elk