La Grande’s Miles Hancock has spent a lifetime around the sport of wrestling. Nearly four decades ago, he was a state champion for Pendleton High School before he went on to wrestle for the University of Oregon,
where he placed in the Pac-10 conference four times and was part of two conference championship-winning teams. He’s been a coach at various levels for more than 30 years, including over two decades in the La Grande wrestling program.
In May, the fruits of his work will be recognized when Hancock is inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Service Award.
“It’s a really big deal. (There is) not a person more worthy of the award, for sure,” LHS head wrestling coach Klel Carson said. “He has coached at all levels — middle school and high school. His work in our program is invaluable.”
Hancock’s roles go beyond being a coach. Since coming to La Grande in the mid-1990s after a nine-year stint in Alaska, he has been a tournament organizer and a referee, and he helped to bring back the La Grande Middle School wrestling program in the early 2000s. He carries with him a wealth of knowledge passed down from other wrestling Hall of Famers, including former Pendleton coach Rollin Schimmel, former LHS coach Verl Miller and former UO coach Ron Finley.
Schimmel, who coached Hancock through his high school days, had, perhaps, the most lasting impact.
“From junior high on I was around him,” Hancock said. “(He was) very hard working and he did it the way he wanted to get it done. When he talked to you, you listened to what he said.”
Junior high school was when Hancock first really undertook the sport after his dad, Scott, suggested he do so since he was likely too small to excel in the sport he liked most at the time, football.
“One day my dad came in and said, ‘You’re never going to be able to be a football player,’” he said. “My focus started about that time. I followed my brother (Kone). He was wrestling, so I tried it out. I had success early.”
Hancock not only had success early, but often. He placed at state all four years, culminating in a state title at 115 pounds in 1979. Later that year, he took part in the Cultural Exchange program, which gave him the opportunity to tour and wrestle in Italy. Miller coached Hancock during the trip abroad.
Hancock also won three state titles in Greco-Roman style wrestling, and went on to Oregon, where he was part of a conference champion team in both 1981 and 1982 and twice competed at nationals.
Following graduation in 1983, Hancock stayed on at Oregon to help student-coach, then returned to Pendleton to help coach before moving to Alaska in 1987. Within two years he was coaching a start-up wrestling program in Ketchikan that he built into a league title contender.
Hancock, who works for the Forest Service, returned to Northeast Oregon for work and joined the LHS coaching staff under Miller and then under Kelly Edvalson. Hancock later led the program through 2001. The middle school program had been cut during that time, and Hancock helped push to bring it back.
“We fought pretty hard to get a middle school program reestablished,” he said.
Hancock is one of the middle school coaches now, and the program has become a state power. LMS has a state championship on its ledger, which it earned in 2015, and most recently took fourth during the 2018 season.
Members of that middle school championship team are now in the high school program, and Carson gives Hancock a lot of the credit.
“(He’s had) an incredible impact. We saw (that success) starting to feed into the high school,” Carson said.
Matt Wolcott, who is also one of the middle school coaches, said Hancock deserves the recognition.
“He has been very critical as far as helping the wrestling program in La Grande,” Wolcott said. “He’s helped at pretty much every level. He helps with the mat club, the middle school, the high school. And he doesn’t have any kids participating in wrestling right now. He just loves the sport. He is very generous with his time. He loves wrestling.”
A big part of what Hancock brings, according to both Carson and Wolcott, is his individual approach.
“He’s watched videos. He’ll basically scout an opponent and then come back and work with one of our wrestlers (and say), ‘Here’s a strategy that I would use against this wrestler,’” Wolcott said.
Added Carson: “He’s had a huge impact on the success of a lot of our athletes with the time he has spent with them one-on-one.”
Hancock also officiates, which he has been doing off and on since the 1980s, and has helped run the Muilenburg Tournament in La Grande for several years.
Hancock said what has kept him involved throughout the years is his desire to teach the youth through the sport.
“I think more than anything it’s working with young kids and teaching them the lessons I learned,” he said. “You’re growing up as a young kid and learning real life lessons. I enjoy working with young kids, especially at the middle school level. I truly believe it’s the work ethic and the life lessons you learn. It all pays off later in life.”
Hancock will be enshrined May 5 in Tigard.