Sometimes the best wrestling matches aren’t on a mat. They are those between youngsters with their fathers rolling around on a carpet in the living room.
Mead’s Tyler McLean and his dad and high school coach, Phil, have recollections of those good times.
“Me and my brother (Kevin, a Mead sophomore) would tag team him or something and my mom would start yelling at us,” Tyler said.
“I’m usually pretty bad,” Phil said. “She gets after them and I enjoy watching them scrap.”
As brothers are wont, the friendly tussle usually escalated into something more heated.
Now a senior, Tyler has done a pretty good job wrestling for his father in front of cheering crowds. He is making his final trip to the State 4A wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday during Mat Classic XXV at the Tacoma Dome. He sports a 38-1 record while chasing a dream that has eluded him during his career.
The 160-pounder admits he has been filling rather large shoes. Phil was a three-time state champion from Deer Park who went on to earn junior college All-American honors while competing on two North Idaho College national championship teams. He finished his career at Fresno State and was both Inland Northwest Sportswriters and Broadcasters junior athlete and coach of the year.
“There’s a little pressure, you know,” Tyler said. “I want to get one (a state championship) for him. It’s been my goal since the beginning. I’m just on a mission this year.”
He’s been in good hands. Phil first built a previously unsuccessful program at Gonzaga Prep into a state title team. At Mead, he’s carried on the Cash Stone legacy, last year taking the Panthers to second in state
Although Tyler won’t win as many state titles as his dad, Phil doesn’t hesitate when talking about his son, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dad at the same age.
“You know what? He’s better than I ever was in a lot of ways,” Phil said. “With all the adversity he’s overcome, I think he’s head and shoulders above what I was.”
Injuries have haunted Tyler since finishing sixth in state as a freshman. A late-season mishap cost Tyler his chance as a sophomore. He was injured again last year during the early-season Tri-State tournament, but came back the final week of regular season and his only two losses down the stretch came against Moses Lake’s Nico Moreno in regional and state finals.
There was much to learn about wrestling than just rolling around on the floor at home. Tyler absorbed the nuances of the sport while the family tagged along with Dad to various high school events.
“You always learn so much when you’ve been exposed to great wrestlers,” Phil said. “Tyler soaked it all in. At age 5 he told me what was going on. He was talking wrestling before he competed.”
Both dad and son understand the potential pitfalls when a successful wrestler and coach walk that fine line between instructor in the wrestling room and being the father at home.
Tyler said his dad always made it his choice, didn’t push and really didn’t become his coach until he reached high school.
“It’s been a really good experience,” Tyler said. “In the wrestling room he’s a coach. Off the wrestling room he’s a great dad.”
Phil said of his dual role, “I want to say I’m able to separate them a bit. I think our relationship has been good and really healthy. But you worry and have anxiety for a kid who works so hard. You want him to do well, he deserves to do well.”
Working together they’d like the finished product to be a state championship.