Gene Harrison wasn’t a wrestler growing up. He doesn’t even remember the sport being offered when he was in school.
Over the past 40-plus years, though, Harrison has watched countless wrestling matches, from kids tournaments to high school duals to national college championships. He’s seen state titles won by a son and grandsons.
“It’s been a very pleasing sport for us as a family, and my wife (Dana) and I enjoy it very much,” said Harrison, 80. “It’s been a long affair. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
Starting today, the Harrisons will watch grandson Quinton Harrison, a Newton junior, try to continue the family’s wrestling legacy at the Class 5A tournament at Park City’s Hartman Arena. Quinton, who finished second in 2011, won his regional last week at 120 pounds and is 29-7.
The Harrison family’s love affair with wrestling began with Toby, the Harrison’s oldest son and second-oldest of seven children.
Gene isn’t sure why Toby started wrestling, but he went on to place in the top three in state twice. Kelby followed in his brother’s footsteps, nearly a decade later, and went on to win two titles.
And so it began.
Two Harrison girls, Gina and Tina, married Mike Metzler and Mike Garcia, who were state champs at Newton. The Garcia’s son Cody won titles, as did Metzler’s sons Luke and Seth.
Then there was Melody, whose son Zach Roberson, won a 2004 national title at Iowa State and earned All-America honors three times. He was undefeated at Blue Valley Northwest and is one of 26 Kansans to win four titles. Roberson’s brother, Josh, won a state title in Florida, too.
The family doesn’t have a specific reason for how one family spawned so much wrestling success. Unless it’s simply the result of hard-working boys willing to push themselves to be the best.
Or maybe it’s because of all the wrestling conversation at family get-togethers, as various techniques and inside knowledge of wrestling is passed from one to another.
“I really don’t know what it is,” said Sharon Harrison, Quinton’s mom and Kelby’s wife. “Maybe it’s that the uncles were rolling around with them from the time they were babies. It’s been an interest of the whole family for years. I guess it’s just in their blood where they love it.”
Ah yes. Wrestling does get into one’s blood. And once it’s there, it’s extremely difficult to eradicate.
“When they come from a wrestling-minded family, the commitment is a whole lot different,” Newton coach Jude Wilson said. “That’s not to say that those who haven’t, aren’t going to be successful, but those that have grown up around the sport, they understand a lot of what it takes to be successful in the sport. When a wrestler comes from that, they live it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
And maybe it’s just the support that’s so critical. Wrestling takes a singular focus to maintain weight, eat right and improve.
Athletes like Quinton Harrison have total support. There’s his dad, Kelby, who always talks to him after matches, pointing out the positives and the negatives of a specific move or decision. There’s his grandparents, who even at the ages of 77 and 80, make spaghetti for the Newton and Hutchinson teams during the Newton tournament.
“The Harrison family, they’ve been supportive of each other, tremendously,” Wilson said. “A lot of times a wrestling family is the immediate family. But these are cousins that are very supportive of each other and work with each other. They’re living wrestling a whole lot more than probably a lot of other people.”
It’s definitely special to be a part of such a family.
“It’s just good to know that we all share something like a common sport,” Quinton said. “We can all help each other out, just push each other to do better.”
The Harrison family line continues, too. Gene and Dana Harrison have two great-grandsons nearing high school age. Both wrestle.
Gene and Dana Harrison’s tree of state wrestling champions
Mike Metzler, son-in-law, Newton 1968, 1969
Mike Garcia, son-in-law, Newton 1976, 1977 (Hutchinson coach)
Kelby Harrison, son, Newton 1981, 1982
Zach Roberson, grandson, BV Northwest 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 (153-0 career, NCAA champ at Iowa State)
Cody Garcia, grandson, Hutchinson 2001, 2003, 2004 (won two Division II titles at Nebraska-Omaha)
Luke Metzler, grandson, Newton 2000, 2001, 2002
Seth Metzler, grandson, Newton 2004