IMBLER — The question startled Imbler High School wrestling coach Doug Hislop.
Hislop was riding in a vehicle in late January when he received a cellphone call from Mike Mills, IHS’s principal and athletic director.
“Are you sitting down?” Mills asked.
The Imbler athletic director then delivered stunning news. Mills told Hislop the National Federation of High School Sports named him the National Coach of the Year for wrestling.
Hislop at first thought Mills was kidding.
“I was totally amazed. To think that there are so many great coaches out there and I was selected. I am honored,” Hislop said. “It boggles my mind. ... Some great coaches must have been overlooked.”
The Oregon Coaches Athletic Association named Hislop the wrestling coach of the year in late 2020 and then the NFHSS named him as regional winner. The regional winner was selected from among eight state winners in the West.
Hislop has been either coaching or officiating wrestling competitions in Union County for 50 years. He started in late 1970 as a volunteer assistant coach at La Grande High School. Hislop continued coaching as an assistant at the school for the next three decades, helping Tigers head coach Verl Miller win state titles in 1978 and 1996.
Miller, now retired, said Hislop richly deserves the national award.
“He truly is a great coach. There is not anyone any better than Doug Hislop,” Miller said.
Miller admired how hard Hislop works to give every wrestler on his teams a chance to succeed.
“He does not shut anybody out. He makes every effort to work with you,” Miller said.
These include student-athletes at risk of going in the wrong direction in life, Miller said. Hislop reaches out to such students, taking them firewood cutting, in some cases, to build connections.
Hislop is not only a coach but a lifelong school teacher and administrator. Hislop was a teacher and principal in the La Grande School District for 33 years before serving as the superintendent of the Imbler School District in 2004. He took the reins of the Imbler High School’s wrestling program in 2007 and has continued as its head coach since then, even after retiring as Imbler superintendent in 2014.
Imbler High had just one athlete win a state title in wrestling before Hislop came. Since then, four of its athletes have won individual state championships.
Hislop credited much of the program’s success to support from his wife, Patty, and the work of his assistant coaches Ron Osterloh and Mike Campbell and earlier assistants Steve Anthony and Doug Noyes.
Osterloh said Hislop is adept at using stories to inspire his wrestlers.
“He has thousands of stories to tell,” Osterloh said.
These tales help Hislop draw athletes to his team.
“He has a magical ability to attract wrestlers,” Osterloh said.
When instructing his wrestlers, Hislop will use the power of storytelling to convey messages to athletes and salute previous stars, such as recounting how an earlier wrestler’s technique vaulted him to success.
“He keeps (the memories of) kids alive from the past,” Osterloh said.
Hislop displays an almost photographic memory when recalling what his and other school’s wrestlers in this region have accomplished over the past decades.
“He’s an encyclopedia,” Osterloh said.
Osterloh also credited Hislop’s wife, Patty, with having excellent recall of this region’s wrestling history. He said when Doug does not know something, Patty almost always will.
Doug Hislop also draws upon the expertise of others. Osterloh said when he has a point to share, Hislop will note he was the head coach at Enterprise High School when it won the 2002 state title.
Hislop does not know how much longer he will coach, but he said this winter has been difficult because he has not been able to be involved in the sport he loves due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have really missed coaching,” he said.