After 50 years of coaching Yelm High School’s boys wrestling program, Gaylord Strand will officially retire at the conclusion of the 2023-24 regular season.
On Tuesday, Jan. 23, hundreds of community members, ex-wrestlers and supporters of the program gathered to celebrate Strand’s illustrious career.
Strand, a 2017 National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee, said the entire season has meant a lot to him because his career as a coach is drawing to a close. The celebration after the “Bad to the Bone” dual on Jan. 23, Strand said, will be a memory he takes with him forever.
“The celebration itself means a lot because I’ve been here for 50 years and have a lot of former wrestlers, sons and grandsons of former wrestlers. The community support and continuity has created a family environment. It was great to see some people that hadn’t been around for a while. It was really rewarding,” Strand said. “It’s been fun thinking back on all of the memories. Every time this year that I go to a dual meet or tournament, I realize it’s the last time I’m doing this tournament or taking a long bus trip to the tournament.”
At the conclusion of the “Bad to the Bone” dual with Bethel, Strand quickly found Bethel’s head coach Matt Lininger, a former athlete of Strand’s, and tossed him to the mat in celebration. Following the throw, the two coaches shared a big hug.
“I think it caught Matt (Lininger) off guard, too. I said, ‘Are you ready to fly? Get ready because here it comes,’ and he went with it,” Strand said while laughing. “The fact that last night brought so many people I hadn’t seen in some time back, it was special. The hugs, the memories, it all combines to make a special moment.”
At the start of Strand’s career after graduating from the University of Washington, the coach began searching for his first job in Washington. He said it was a tough year to search for a physical education job as only three openings were listed. He was a finalist for a job at Cashmere but missed out, so Strand enrolled for his fifth year at UW.
“Just about a week or two before school started, I got a phone call from my coach in college. He told me he received a phone call from the superintendent down in Yelm, and he says they’re looking for a PE teacher that can teach biology and other sciences while coaching wrestling,” Strand said. “I called and got down there right away. They ran me through the ropes, and about two and a half to three hours later, they offered me a contract. My college coach said it was a real small town and that he’d never heard of it — and that it was a good place to start.
“We had a successful start. The community took me under their wing. Some of the parents of the wrestlers invited me out to dinner, got to know me, [told me] what the program stands for and whatnot,” Strand continued. “I liked Yelm, and I’ve just stayed. There’s been a lot of changes in the community since I came. I’ve outlived a lot of principals and superintendents. I’ve had a lot of good colleagues that have worked in my department. It’s the people you work with that makes a difference. I’ve really enjoyed the people I’ve worked with.”
Following Strand’s celebration, the coach said he spent countless hours writing thank you messages on Facebook and responding to written cards.
“When you’re doing the right things and getting good kids in the program with parent support, how can you lose? It might not say you’re winning on the scoreboard, but you’re not losing because kids are getting great benefits out of the program,” Strand said. “I’m going to be leaving a lot of great kids behind. … Whoever takes the team over will have a great program to start with. It’ll be the team’s first year in 4A, but I think the program will do just fine. Knowing that I had a part in this makes me proud.”
Derrick Platt, class of 2019 graduate and back-to-back state wrestling champion in 2018 and 2019, described Strand as being an “extraordinary mentor” to him. Strand, whom Platt referred to as “Strandpa,” brings experience to the program that goes beyond the mat, the two time state champion added.
“His experiences ingrained in me the fundamental principle that hard work should always take precedence. Under his guidance, I’ve discovered the ability to surpass my perceived limits, as he consistently encouraged me to push myself beyond the confines of my own mind,” Platt said. “One aspect I deeply admire about Strandpa is his unique balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. His ability to infuse joy and camaraderie into our training sessions created an environment where we not only honed our skills but also cherished the camaraderie we created within the team. Yet, when the moment called for focus and dedication, he seamlessly transitioned into a serious, determined coach, setting the tone for disciplined and purposeful training.
“I am profoundly grateful for his hands-on approach to coaching. Strandpa’s commitment to getting in the trenches with us, demonstrating every move despite the toll on his own body, exemplifies his dedication to our growth. His actions speak volumes, illustrating the embodiment of hard work, perseverance and a genuine passion for the sport,” he continued. “As I reflect on these transformative years under Strandpa’s guidance, I carry with me not just the technical skills of wrestling but a set of life lessons that extend far beyond the wrestling mat.”
Platt’s younger brother Logan, YHS class of 2022 graduate and 2022 state wrestling champion, said Strand brought a lot to the Yelm boys wrestling program, including a winning pedigree.
“Coach Strand, a Hall of Fame wrestling coach, brought a wealth of experience, expertise and a winning mentality to the program. His legacy includes championships, state titles, league championships, improved training programs and a very positive impact on his athletes,” he said. “Over the years, coach Strand has built a strong wrestling tradition at Yelm High School. All we knew what it took to win and to be humble about our success.”
Mat Classic XXXV is scheduled for Feb. 16 and Feb. 17 at the Tacoma Dome. Strand will officially retire following the tournament and hopes community support of the program continues following his departure.
“Whoever takes over my program, get behind the kids,” Strand said. “I’ve been the general for a long time, and whoever takes the program over will need as much support as I’ve had. They deserve it, and I hope the community supports them.”