GHS wrestling team suffers tragedy, offering perspective for all young people

GHS wrestling team suffers tragedy, offering perspective for all young people

By now most GHS sports fans and followers of the Greenwood Dog Pound know about the tragedy two weekends ago involving Bulldogs’ senior wrestler Garrett Haralson, who passed away on Sunday, December 12th, after being the lone victim of a single-vehicle accident early that morning.

Garrett is the son of parents Robert and Sharon, and the younger brother of sister Leighton. Though divorced, Robert watched his son wrestle for only the second time on the Thursday before Garrett’s passing. Sharon is the current treasurer for the team’s booster club and Leighton attends the University of Arkansas.

Funeral services were held last Friday, but the impact of this tragedy on Garrett’s teammates and classmates is incalculable, especially in the wake of the double tragedy that happened last June with the passing of GHS principal Aaron Gamble and his 15-year-old son Landry, also in an auto accident. Life goes on, but its lessons should never be forgotten, especially the hard ones.

Head Coach John Kincade is highly respected and much loved by his GHS colleagues and students alike and is widely known as a man of faith. Only days before Garrett’s accident, Kincade was named as the 2020-21 Arkansas Wrestling Coach of the Year by the National Federation of High School Coaches Association, and his recognition is well-deserved. He has led his Bulldogs to consecutive 5A state titles over the past two years in addition to three straight dual state championships. He’s also the founder of the GHS program dating back to 2012 and the perfect leader and mentor during a time of tragedy.

Coach Kincade graciously granted a recent interview to talk about the passing of Garrett Haralson and preview the 2021-22 wrestling season for his Bulldogs (see additional article). Of course, the Coach of the Year would rather not have to deal with such an uncomfortable moment in life, but that only makes him human. After spending time with the Haralson family at the hospital in Fayetteville last Sunday, he turned his attention to Garrett’s teammates on the wrestling team.

The heartbroken coach first talked about the promise of Garrett’s senior season as a wrestler. “He looked really good,” offered Kincade. “He was at a different level. He was a three-time state placer and really felt like he had a chance to win it this year,” referring to a state title in his individual weight class. “[But] nobody will probably ever know [what happened]. There were skid marks and he hit a tree,” briefly describing the scene of the early morning accident.

“His impact on our team was unbelievable. He was a team captain. He was with me in junior high football and has been wrestling for me since he was little. He was a tremendous leader who loved to teach and coach, so I just let him spread his wings and fly. He was very knowledgeable, and he helped so many little kids. He knew a lot about wrestling and was a student of the sport. He went by “Little G.” That was his nickname because we also had Garrett Newman. He was very valuable to our team. We can’t replace someone like that. He was his own person and very unique,” said the coach. Garrett had planned to pursue coaching as a career in college.

“It’s going to be tough moving forward [as a team]. I gave them a day off and they just sat on the mats for about 30 minutes and didn’t do anything. The counselor met with them Monday morning. They were just broken. But after about 30 minutes or so they started mingling and talking to one another,” explained Kincade. “I told them [Garrett] would never be forgotten. We will always honor him, but we’re going to move on and get back to practice.

“His life has affected a lot of lives, including mine. He touched my heart and I consider him like one of my own kids. It’s a tough one. His favorite verse was Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.’ A lot of our kids were touched by him. It’s heartbreaking. It’s been a tough year in Greenwood. It seems like we’ve had a lot of tragedy,” a reference to others within the Greenwood education family that have passed away in 2021.

In addition to Garrett Haralson and Aaron and Landry Gamble, all of whom died in auto accidents six months apart, two more staff members died earlier this year after losing their battles with cancer. Megan Whitson, a librarian at East Point Elementary, and Josh Mourton, a school resource officer in the district, both passed away last spring. It’s extremely rare for a school district the size of Greenwood to suffer so many losses in such a short time.

“I don’t even care about the winning and losing part,” said the GHS wrestling coach. “It comes back to what’s important in life, and that’s what I tried to share with my kids. We have no lease on life, and any moment we need to be prepared. It’s one of those things that’s definitely hard on kids or a coach.

“I’ve been around and seen a lot of things,” he continued. “I went to college to learn how to coach, but nothing really prepares you for this. I just try to seek guidance from the Lord and let him show me what to do as a leader. I asked Him to let me be strong when I need to be strong, and weak when I need to be weak. There are times and places for [both].”

Sage words from a wise and gentle man, and advice that should be heeded by all, young and old alike. Life is a precious commodity, guaranteed to no one, and every day should be cherished and appreciated. Most young people in their teens and twenties rarely think about death or even the incredible gift that is life. They are too busy growing up, getting educated, and making life decisions to slow down long enough to consider the unthinkable. But the unimaginable does sometimes happen, and we are all forced to deal with it whether we are ready or not. It’s best to be prepared.

So, over the next few days and weeks, offer an occasional prayer for the Haralson family. They will need all the comfort and support they can get, as will Garrett’s teammates and classmates at Greenwood High School. The wrestling season will go on, but his legacy as a son, brother, friend, teammate, and student-athlete will linger in the hearts and minds of all who knew him and loved him. May he rest in peace.

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