Mom has strong hold on wrestling tradition
Since 2002, the name Epperly has been all but synonymous with wrestling success at Christiansburg High School.
When Zach Epperly walked away with his fourth-straight Group AA individual title at the Salem Civic Center on Feb. 16, he book-ended this generation of the family’s time as Blue Demons, which in all tallied 11 team state championships, with eight individual state titles and three state runner-up finishes.
While the family’s contribution to Christiansburg’s dominance is obvious, the family member who has contributed the most may be the one who has never stepped on the mat.
For more than a decade, Elise Epperly, the mother of Matt, Brady and Zach Epperly, has been hard at work behind the scenes to ensure her sons, as well as the Blue Demon program, have every opportunity to succeed.
Elise Epperly said she was first introduced to the sport by her husband, Jeff, shortly after they were married in 1985 and admitted she wasn’t instantly sold on it.
“I thought, ‘I don’t know if I really like this sport,’ ” Elise Epperly said.
Jeff Epperly, a third-place finisher for Christiansburg in the 1981 state wrestling tournament, said it often takes a few seasons for newcomers to get the hang of the sport — which was the case for his wife.
“It’s a sport that you learn to love, and once you get involved with it, it’s in your blood,” Elise Epperly said.
At that time, the Epperlys were only involved with the sport as fans, often attending matches alongside friends who were part of the large Grundy High School fan base.
“We were just so amazed at how many fans supported wrestling from the Grundy area,” Elise Epperly said. “We thought, we’ll never have that here.”
In 1987, the couple welcomed their first son, Matt, into the world and into the stands of the wrestling matches, where Elise Epperly said he could often be found asleep in the bleachers. By the mid-’90s, the clan had expanded to five, including brothers Brady and Zach.
The sport soon took root in all three boys. Their earliest wrestling lessons came on mats in the Epperlys’ basement.
They also began wrestling in what was then a small program provided by the Christiansburg Recreation Department.
Robin Ball, parent of a fellow wrestler in the program, said Elise Epperly became a leader of the program’s core families.
From her efforts to help raise funds and organize tournaments to the way she kept her composure during matches, Elise Epperly set the bar for other parents, Ball said.
“I don’t think she realized how much we [other parents] looked to her for guidance,” Ball said.
As the program in Christiansburg grew, the family began to expand their wrestling world by traveling as far as West Virginia, North Carolina and Northern Virginia for tournaments.
Matt Epperly, who would go on to become a four-time VHSL and two-time ACC wrestling champion, said he could remember the family traveling to tournaments from the time he was 6 years old. And by family, he meant the entire family.
“All three of us [brothers] in the car. Grandma and Grandpa in the car. [My] other grandma and grandpa in the car behind us. … It was a family train,” Matt Epperly said.
When current Virginia Tech wrestling coach Kevin Dresser took over the Christiansburg program in 1996, those wrestling trips became lengthier and more frequent.
“Every weekend during wrestling season we were on the road, 11 months out of the year, nonstop,” Matt Epperly said.
Dresser said that when he arrived, the Epperlys were members of a very small core group who understood wrestling in Christiansburg.
He said the Epperlys showed up at his first official meeting with wrestlers and that their families and their relationship with the program took off from there.
The wrestling program at Christiansburg went on to flourish under Dresser, and the coach was quick to point out Elise Epperly’s role in that growth.
“It takes a lot of people, and Elise has been one of those key people,” Dresser said.
As the program grew, so did Elise Epperly’s boys, moving through middle school and into high school, and with each step, the wrestling intensified.
When Matt Epperly entered Christiansburg High School in 2002, his mom followed, trading in her job as an instructional aide at Christiansburg Middle School for the role of administrative assistant in the high school’s office.
While the role allowed for Elise Epperly to keep an eye on her sons over the years, it has also allowed her to build relationships with other wrestlers — at one time earning her the nickname “Mama Epp” — and has helped serve as a bridge for communication between the school and wrestling coaches.
“Anytime I need anything over at the school, she’s the first one I call,” said Daryl Weber, Christiansburg wrestling head coach.
Over the next 10 years, Elise Epperly saw each of her sons walk through the halls of the high school, as well as onto the mat at the state wrestling tournament. Though they were participating in an intensely physical sport, she never found herself overly concerned about an injury.
“I thought, ‘They’re not going to get hurt — that bad,’ and I’m not one of these parents that’s going to run out onto the mat and embarrass them to death,” she said.
Her ability to keep a level head is something her husband said made watching the sport with her more enjoyable.
“She gets excited, but she’s really kind of laid-back. There’s some parents that get real emotional; she’s not really like that,” Jeff Epperly said.
Dresser said her demeanor and personality, as well as her consistently positive attitude, win or lose, with her children over the years was what he appreciated most about her.
Her boys credited their mother with knowing how to handle the tough times.
“She knows exactly what’s going on. She knows we’re always in a bad mood when we’re cutting weight. She just knows what to expect and makes everything a lot better,” Zach Epperly said.
Brady Epperly, the lone brother without an individual state title, said his mother and father also kept the same positive attitude when he decided to hang up his singlet prior to his senior year to get a jump-start on his career.
“They were okay with it. They would have liked to have seen me do it, but they knew my heart wasn’t in it like Zach and Matt,” Brady Epperly said.
Matt Epperly, who began working as an assistant coach with the Blue Demons this year, said traveling and seeing other wrestlers’ parents has given him a new perspective on his mother’s commitment to him and his brothers.
“Now as a coach, I see these other kids,” he said. “Their parents don’t come out and support them — that’s horrible for the kids. It’s a sense of well-being when you can see your parents there in the stands, waving at you before a match.”
While more than a decade of wrestling has cost Elise Epperly many a free weekend — as well as more than a few loads of laundry — she believes what the sport has done for her sons has more than outweighed the cost.
“Wrestling teaches them to be responsible, that’s why I like the sport, because it teaches them discipline. … It builds their character,” Elise Epperly said.
Though this generation of the Epperly boys may be done grappling on the mats at Christiansburg, at least one Epperly is far from done helping the program.
“Like I said, wrestling is in your blood,” Elise Epperly said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
No Comments »
No comments yet.