FARMINGTON — Long-time Aztec wrestling coach Herb Stinson will add another line to his already staggering resume when he’s inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame next week.
"I was honored and very humbled by it, but it’s not just one person getting this award, because there have been a lot of people along the way who have helped me to get to this point,” said Stinson, 64.
The association began its Hall of Fame in 1996, and this year’s class, which will be inducted Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., will include 30 coaches from 16 states, said Dave Dougherty, the association's executive director.
To be inducted, coaches must be nominated by their state coaches’ association. For Stinson, that's the New Mexico High School Coaches Association.
"Every state has the ability to nominate someone for our Hall of Fame, and we usually leave it up to the states to vet their nominees and make the final decision," Dougherty said. "We really believe in the local control and believe they know who’s most deserving."
Stinson was inducted into the New Mexico High School Coaches Association's Hall of Honor in 1998. And with his record of success, it appeared to only be a matter of time before he also earned the national honor.
Stinson is nationally ranked fourth for all-time for tournament wins with 139 and fifth for individual champions with 65, according to the national coaches association.
After taking over the Aztec wrestling program in 1976 after the retirement of the late Jerry Parker — Stinson’s high school coach and mentor — Stinson turned the Tigers into a perennial power in the 1980s and the face of New Mexico high school wrestling in the 1990s.
From 1980 to 1989, Aztec finished outside of the top three at the state tournament just three times and won the state title in '82. Starting in 1990, the Tigers won their first of 11 consecutive state titles.
"I’m still friends with and associate with many of those young men (from those state championship teams), and now they’re men with families, and I’m starting to see their kids start wrestling in the program at Aztec. That is really something special," Stinson said. "Winning a state championship is special, but seeing how those men have become doctors and lawyers and engineers and great, great fathers, that’s what it’s all about. The byproduct is the state championships, but the real product is what they do in the future and what they gained from high school sports."
During his time at Aztec, Stinson coached 61 individual state champions, 18 high school All-Americans and 10 academic All-Americans.
At the end of the 1995 season, USA Today ranked Aztec eighth in the nation among high school wrestling programs.
Stinson was named the A/3A Coach of the Year six times and the New Mexico Coach of the Year three times. And he also earned three separate national Coach of the Year awards in 1991, 1995 and 2000.
After Aztec won the 2000 state title, Stinson ventured north to Bayfield High School in Colorado, coaching the Wolverines through the 2012 season. There, Stinson guided four more individuals to state champions, one All-American and two academic All-Americans.
Stinson returned to Aztec as an assistant in 2012, and recent Aztec graduate Dylan Sutherland said his presence was immediately felt.
“As soon as he showed up my freshman year, he didn’t put up with anyone’s stuff and made everything so much more disciplined, and it really picked up the team,” Sutherland said. “He’s there every day. He’s at every morning practice, stays the whole time, then is there at night and stays until we’re done. He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had.”
Especially in light of all of his accolades, it's stunning to consider that Stinson was actually reluctant to take up the sport in high school.
When Stinson was a sophomore at Aztec High, coach Parker recruited him from the basketball team to join wrestling during the football off-season. At first hesitant to take to the mat, Stinson eventually joined the team to put a stop to Parker’s endless recruitment.
But before the wrestling season ended, Stinson became infatuated with the sport, vowing to become a wrestling coach so he could impact the lives of others like Parker did for him.
“(My life) would be completely different. The things I’ve been able to do and accomplish never would have happened if it wasn’t for coach Jerry Parker,” Stinson said.
Now, Stinson has continued that cycle. Sutherland said the four years he spent under Stinson's tutelage made him want to become a wrestling coach after college.
Since his introduction to wrestling in the late '60s, Stinson has seen the sport move from the shadows to the spotlight. He remembers the Tigers practicing in hallways and foyers because they didn’t have a place of their own.
Stinson said Aztec was one of the first programs in the state to have its own wrestling room, and that facility made the program a desirable destination for prospective wrestlers. But as the popularity of the sport grew, so did its price tag, making it more difficult for athletes to become involved in the sport.
"In a way, it has become a monster. I feel like it used to be kind of the poor man’s sport,” Stinson said. “Now, it has become a multi-million dollar business for some people. There are tournaments every weekend and camps everywhere, I’m kind of mad that it has done that, but I understand that’s the way things are now with youth and high school sports.”
Now, while serving as the head assistant at Aztec, Stinson is working to create a culture of community for everyone interested in his favorite sport. He serves as chairman of a committee raising money for a new wrestling room at the high school that will be available to the entire community.
The project is the latest in Stinson’s quest to give back to the sport that has given him so much. And it’s not likely to be the last.
"I’m not quite done yet," Stinson said. "I want to keep pushing it for at least a few more years."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.