Derek Wiley
The Bulletin

Central Oregon Wrestling Academy

What: Training for experienced wrestlers in fifth grade through high school.

When: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: 2101 SW Minson Road, Powell Butte

Costs: $120 for 10 sessions, $300 for a season pass (35 sessions) and $700 for a yearly pass (100 sessions).

More information: cowacrew.com

POWELL BUTTE —

On a Thursday night in December, Jake Huffman is back where he has been the past 13 years in Central Oregon — on a wrestling mat.

The lights are not as bright. He is not preparing for another state championship run, but the former Crook County High School coach feels even more fulfilled.

Huffman’s decision to step down as the Cowboys wrestling coach, after his team won its fifth state title in six years, was all about family.

“I wanted to spend time with my family and the way that (high school) schedule works it wasn’t conducive to me spending time with my family,” says the 38-year-old Huffman, adding that he actually made the decision to step away back in 2014, when he had a 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.

“My life got busy. I had a three-year plan to stop coaching. I knew our family was growing. And I told people that, too, anybody that would ask. It wasn’t a secret.”

During the middle of last season, Huffman’s wife, Elaina, delivered twins.

“It was a tough one,” says Elaina of adding two babies to the family during wrestling season.

But she also knew Jake would not be happy without wrestling in his life.

“I told him, ‘I don’t think I can live with you if you don’t have a way to participate in your passion.’ We wanted to find a way to work wrestling into our family.”

After Jake turned down the Eastern Oregon University head coaching job, the Huffmans founded the Central Oregon Wrestling Academy.

“It was really my wife’s idea,” Huffman says. “She knew how much I loved wrestling. She talked me into it and it’s been fun for us to do together and get excited about. She comes up with new ideas and helps me with the structure of it and plan through the year. It’s been great to share that with her.”

Considering their family, careers (Elaina is a vice president at Prineville Insurance) and priorities, along with interviewing leaders of wrestling clubs across the country to get their insights, the Huffmans opened the Central ­Oregon Wrestling Academy in Powell Butte on Oct. 1.

“Jake and I are good partners,” Elaina says. “Obviously, he’s the wrestling guru. He has ideas and plans about what COWA is doing and where it is going to go. But it’s important to have someone to bounce things off of, and consider different angles or potential concerns. I like to try and be that person for him.”

The academy is located just north of Powell Butte off Minson Road. The facility was donated by a former Crook County wrestler’s father, Robert Buckner.

Huffman, along with Scott Villastrigo, another former Crook County wrestler, trains as many as 38 young wrestlers three nights a week, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 7 to 8:30. They start with a 30-minute warmup before moving on to drills and then finishing with live wrestling.

“We just work hard,” Huffman says. “It’s very structured. The kids know what to expect and we try to make it fun.”

While the academy is designed for experienced wrestlers from fifth grade through high school, Huffman will accept younger wrestlers on a case-by-case basis.

“If kids are motivated and have enough skill and have a workout partner, we’ll allow them to come into it,” Huffman said. “We have some kids that have never wrestled. The curriculum is not for beginners, but the experience could be for beginners if they have the right mindset. I wouldn’t say it’s an elite club — there’s no tryout — but that’s where these guys’ mindset is. They want to be the best.”

COWA will train nine months out of the year, hold clinics in June and July and take August off.

The academy also took a week off for Thanksgiving; it will take two weeks for Christmas and then one week for spring break.

“This caters more to our family schedule and we’re together more and that’s what I really want,” Huffman explains.

Huffman expects his oldest son, Otto, now 6, to be on the mat in January.

“I always thought that if we had kids that I would want to be a part of what they had going on developmentally,” Huffman says, “and make it so that I knew that they would have fun, and allow us to still be a part of wrestling but also be a part of our family.”

Currently, young wrestlers from Crook County, Bend, La Pine, Warm Springs and Redmond are training at COWA.

“That’s our mantra is to come together to make each other better and it’s not about any single high school,” Huffman says. “I feel like I can impact a larger area instead of just helping Crook County, which of course is near and dear to my heart. I can help everybody and in doing so Crook County will also benefit. It’s just another opportunity for kids to learn wrestling and get better at it and become passionate about it.”

Huffman’s passion for wrestling began as an 8-year-old in the small mid-Willamette Valley town of Scio. He wrestled at Peninsula Wrestling Club in Portland and then at Oregon State University. At Crook County, where Huffman coached for 12 seasons, he led the Cowboys to the 2013 Class 4A championship — the school’s first state wrestling title in 38 years.

“Crook County has been a storied program long before I got there,” Huffman says. “I was lucky enough to have a good group of kids. We had a great community group. I think the one thing I was able to do is get everybody on the same page and align things a little bit better, and when that happened, it (the winning) really took care of itself.”

In 2014, Crook County scored a state tournament-record 405.5 points at the OSAA championships as 23 Cowboys placed in the top six in their respective weight classes.

“That was just a tremendously talented group and I was lucky because a lot of times you have talent but this talent was spread out weightwise,” Huffman says. “And they all just cared for each other. It was a perfect storm.”

Huffman, who was a math and special education teacher at Crook County High before becoming the school’s dean of students this year, admits that he does miss coaching the Cowboys.

“I miss all the kids that I worked with and I miss seeing them and watching them train and get better,” Huffman says. “But I’m still involved in the sport of wrestling and this allows me to be involved with my family more. That’s really the key, and my wife and I can do this together, which is important to me. This (COWA) makes me miss it less.”

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307, dwiley@bendbulletin.com

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