Thorpe steps down from OWA after 13 years

By Benny Westcott
Lebanon Local/New Era

After serving for 13 years as Oregon Wrestling Association Chairman, Sweet Home High School wrestling coach Steve Thorpe is stepping down from that role.

“I am going to focus on just coaching Sweet Home wrestling, not having my wife and family take second place, and my involvement and focus on being a papa,” Thorpe said.

With the resignation, Thorpe will also be stepping down from his position as chair of state chairpersons and chair of the Junior Olympic Wrestling Committee for USA Wrestling, as well as board member and executive committee member for that national organization.

“I can never put into words how much I appreciate and cherish the opportunities I have been given and the lifelong friendships I have made,” he said of his experience. “The Oregon Wrestling Association is better than it has ever been with some incredible changes and people that will only continue to make our state better.”

Thorpe had been involved with OWA as a national team coach since 1995 when he got a call 13 years ago from a representative of USA Wrestling who wanted a change for Oregon. The representative asked Thorpe if he’d be chairman.

Thorpe called the man back and said he’d do it for two years only. But then two years turned into four, and four turned into 13.

“It’s been a blessing, it’s been difficult, it’s been stressful, it’s been rewarding,” Thorpe said. “It’s been a pretty incredible ride.”

About a decade ago he became the representative for the West Region of USA Wrestling, serving on the Junior Olympic Wrestling Committee. He would ultimately become chairman of that committee, in addition to chairman of the National Council. That led to him being appointed to the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of USA Wrestling.

He voted on things that affected the sport of wrestling both in the US and worldwide.

In his last meeting with the Executive Committee, he voted to set policy on how US wrestlers will qualify to compete in the Olympic Trials and the Pan American Games. When he got off that call, he told his wife Heather “the little chubby kid from Sweet Home just had a vote on how we’re going to qualify our Olympic teams.” It was a moment indicative of how far Thorpe had come.

In 2018 he was selected as State Chairperson of the Year for USA Wrestling and received the President’s Award. With that distinction he traveled to the World Championships in Budapest.

The year he’s going out, OWA has had a growth in membership of almost 40,000. There were approximately 253,000 members at the end of 2022. This year, Thorpe said the organization has just under 300,000 members.

This year the organization hired a full time employee, another sign of growth.

“We’re not a mom-and-pop shop anymore,” Thorpe said. OWA is number six in the US for membership, and number two for fastest growing women’s programs, after Oregon was the 15th state to add girls wrestling as a sanctioned high school sport. Now 38 states have made such a move.

A stack of Steve Thorpe’s wrestling related credentials.

Thorpe said that going into the COVID-19 pandemic, OWA had set a new record each year for sanctioned events, membership and chartered clubs. “I’ve got to celebrate some great things we’ve done in our state, in our sport, and in the country,” he said.

It wasn’t just him, of course. “We have some people who are involved that are soldiers, they’re workhorses,” he said. In fact, the friendships Thorpe has made are what he says he values most from the experience. And he couldn’t have done it without the support of those closest to him.

“To get to do this with some of my best friends in this world and to get to build and develop relationships, I can never pay back the sport of wrestling for what it’s done for me,” he said. Family was crucial too. “People want to thank me, but they need to thank Heather and my kids,” Thorpe said. “Because they had to share me a lot of times.”

Thorpe said one of his proudest achievements during his time with OWA was what he helped make happen during the pandemic, particularly in 2021. “We made state tournaments happen in June in record temperatures with the OSAA putting stumbling blocks in front of us,” he said, noting that no other sport, 1A through 6A, held a state tournament.

During that time Thorpe also started posting virtual wrestling workouts three days a week on Facebook Live, and the content’s following grew nationwide.

“We made decisions to have things safe to keep people involved,” he said.

Thorpe is excited that in stepping down from his state-wide role – he will still serve on the USA Wrestling Finance Committee – he will have more time to devote to his team in Sweet Home. “All this means is that Sweet Home wrestling gets a little bit more of me,” the coach said.

And he thinks Rick Bell, the new chair of OWA, is a great man to fill his shoes going forward. “I would have reluctantly stayed and kept going until the right person was there, but right now Rick Bell is the only guy I can think of in the state of Oregon that can keep this train on the tracks,” Thorpe said, calling Bell a man of integrity and vision.

“I knew that it was the perfect time for me to step away,” Thorpe said. “I wasn’t abandoning anything and I wasn’t leaving anybody high and dry.”

Bell had high praise for Thorpe. “He’s just done a tremendous job from the start,” he said. “He helps out everybody, and he’s nonstop working to make the state better. He’s represented us throughout the nation in the best light you can imagine.”

He added that “He’s been a fantastic mentor for me. It’s cool because he’s had so much impact in Sweet Home, in Oregon, and throughout the nation. For one man to have so much impact is amazing.”