Jacob, the Bible’s Old Testament says, wrestled with God and received His blessing. Orange wrestling coach Bobby Shriner never locked up with the Lord on the mat, but he is happy to be on the same team.
“I’m a blessed man. This is God’s calling for my life,” said Shriner, a devout Christian who walks on faith while preaching the power of a bar arm and half nelson.
That melding of mission and muscle has generated nine state team crowns for Orange since 2005.
Another blessing was added to his life when he recorded one of the most unique accomplishments in North Carolina wresting annals: His 600th career dual meet victory at the Apex Friendship Duals on Jan. 21.
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He is only the fifth wrestling coach in state history to breathe that rarefied air.
A gym full of adoring fans and appreciative former wrestlers turned out last Thursday to honor him. His Panthers dispatched with Southern Durham and Chapel Hill in a tri-match that pushed his career record to 606-88, and delivered his 15th straight conference title.
Afterward, Shriner was presented with a plaque commemorating his 600th win, and he responded, predictably, with a Bible passage.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all things shall be added to your life,” he said to a wave of applause from the stands. “My translation is when you put God at the center of your life, wild and crazy things happen. He’ll take you to places you never even thought you’d go, and you’ll accomplish things you never, ever thought you would accomplish.”
Shriner, a blue-chip wrestler out of New Jersey, moved south to wrestle for UNC, where he was a two-time ACC champ, a 1984 All-American with a seventh-place NCAA finish, and in 2002 was named one of the Top 50 wrestlers in the ACC’s 50-year history.
Chapel Hill wrestling coach Tripp Price and Shriner started their coaching careers at Chapel Hill as assistants under Dean Richards, and Shriner succeeded Richards for one year.
“I’m taking 10 of those back he got at Chapel Hill,” Price joked after Thursday’s match about Shriner’s career victory total. “I’m just happy I had the opportunity to coach with him. It was great. I wish he would have stayed in Chapel Hill and gotten his 600 over there.”
Former Riverside coach Walt Tolarchyk, in 41 years, compiled a record of 817-91-3. Bill Mayhew of South Iredell was 669-198-1 over 43 years, Jerry Winterton of Cary fame (and East Wake beginnings) was 642-34-1 over 33 years and Bobby House of Ledford was 621-85 during his 29 seasons.
Shriner will have a chance to add some more on Thursday when his 29-0 Panthers take part in the third round at Gray’s Creek just south of Fayetteville.
The Panthers have won the state 3A team dual crown in 2005, 2011 and 2012, and the 1A/2A title in 2008 and 2009. They were runners-up in 4A in 1992 and 1997, and in 3A in 2010.
The Shriner dynasty includes team titles in the state individual tournament in 2A in 2008 and 2009, and 3A in 2012 and 2013. He has turned out 23 individual state champion wrestlers, was named N.C. Mat News Coach of the Year six times, and is in the North Carolina Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“People forget your records. The trophies fade. But it’s the relationships. If you can steer these guys in the right direction, it’s a great platform. I’ve done it for a while,” Shriner said. “We just try to love our kids, and make them feel important. All of them — the guys on our second, third string — and that builds team and family.”
Shriner said all this on a night that stirred a flood of memories of bygone teams and wrestlers, and a decision years ago to give up a job as a shopping center developer to become a teacher and coach.
“He’s done an awesome, awesome job,” said Jim King, former Orange wrestling coach and Shriner’s mentor, who presented him with his plaque. “To be a winner you have to be thorough, and part of wrestling is being a good technician, and being a good clinician ... The kids love him. Everybody in the community loves him. He creates family. A family atmosphere. Kids want to come back and coach with him, and work with him, and be a part of the team.”