Quadriplegic coach leads Sandy High to state tournament

Published: Feb. 25, 2023 at 10:41 AM PST
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Members of the Sandy High School boys wrestling team are no strangers to the big stage. They will be hitting the mat at the Oregon State Championships this weekend.

Earlier this month, they took home first place in the Mt. Hood Tournament, which punched their ticket to the state championships. Head coach Larry Topliff is taking 13 Sandy wrestlers to state this year.

“All season long we’re just talking about team, team, team, but now we’re looking at ‘What can each person accomplish individually?’” Topliff said. “Seeing that the team coming together as a family basically has been really exciting. The whole year has been an incredible blessing. (It’s) just a fantastic group of kids.”

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Topliff has coached for many years and has inspired so many along the way. But Topliff has had quite the journey himself. In 1985, he was involved in a car accident on the way to a wrestling tournament while attending the University of Oregon. His van hit ice and went off an embankment, rolling six times. The accident left two of his teammates dead and him in a wheelchair as a paralyzed quadriplegic.

“I don’t think I would’ve survived the accident had it not been for my involvement in the sport,” Topliff said. “Certainly, I wouldn’t have had as good of a life sentence had it not been for the lessons I learned on the mat.”

Topliff has been part of the wrestling world for more than 30 years. He said he believes it’s all about the kids.

“There were people that gave, when my coaches gave to me,” he said. “I have an opportunity to do the same thing.”

But Topliff wasn’t supposed to coach this year. There were other candidates in the running but no one that fit the bill. He said the coaching staff wanted to make sure their wrestling program didn’t go off the rails.

Topliff stepped in, and this year, was awarded the Districts’ Coach of the Year.

“I’ve coached for a lot of years,” he said. “We’ve had hardware in the past and all those things are great but it’s the life lessons that really matter. God has been good. He has blessed me with a wife and three kids now and the opportunity to be in involved in the wrestling program at Sandy. It’s been a good time.”