Lofty honor for longtime wrestling coach, official
Jon Thompson to be inducted into National Wrestling Hall of Fame
Wrestling was the perfect fit. Even when Jon Thompson tried playing football at Kansas State, that was obvious.
He could no longer break big runs, but he still had it on the wrestling mat, winning a Big 8 wrestling title in 1963.
After that, Thompson went into coaching. He coached for 15 years, including eight at Montrose High School, and officiated for 25 years until 2009.
On May 11 in Colorado Springs, Thompson, 71, will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Colorado Chapter.
“It was sure fun while it lasted,” Thompson said. “If I had my life to live over I would do exactly what I did. It was sure a wonderful experience.”
Thompson hopes to have a reunion with his wrestlers sometime this summer, but nothing has been set.
Thompson grew up in a small community in Sherman County, Kan., where “everybody wanted to be a wrestler,” he said.
“Plus, I was suited well for it. I was physical and a bit ornery.”
After wrestling at Kansas State, Thompson coached a high school program until 1969 when he went to graduate school at the University of Northern Colorado.
That’s where he met former Montrose wrestling coach Jack La Bonde, who convinced Thompson to be a graduate assistant coach in 1969-70.
“I couldn’t wait to get into coaching,” Thompson said. “I was suited for (coaching), I thought. My family was wonderful and supportive. There was nothing else I wanted to do.”
La Bonde persuaded Thompson to move to Montrose and take over the high school program.
“Jack was right,” Thompson said. “There was a great community support, great kids, and support from the administration. It was a place I wanted to be.”
Thompson coached Montrose High School from 1970 to 1978, winning two state team titles and finishing second three times. He coached 12 individual state champions at Montrose.
“I was blessed,” said Jack Garrison, who won an individual state title his senior at Montrose in 1977. “I had good coaches throughout my career, but none better than Jon Thompson. He was a great coach and a great motivator. He had you believing in yourself. When I went into college, I had a great freshman year all because of Jon Thompson.”
Garrison now coaches at Holyoke High School. His older brother, Larry Garrison, was a two-time state champion for Thompson.
“He was my only coach from eighth grade on,” Larry Garrison said. “He’s just a hell of a coach and a hell of a guy. We traveled to freestyle tournaments, just him and me. He taught me everything I know.”
Steve Linsacum became a coach because of Thompson’s influence.
“I probably would not still be in wrestling if not for Jon Thompson,” Linsacum said. “He came with knowledge, experience, technique and a high degree of organization. I watched it, observed it and grabbed it.”
Linsacum has coached high school wrestling for 29 years, including 12 at Montrose. He is now the coach at Thunderbird (Ariz.) High School, which wrestles in the Warrior Classic.
Linsacum has coached seven state team champions and 39 individual state champions.
“Those things probably would never happen if he didn’t come to Montrose High School,” Linsacum said.
Thompson credited his success to the Montrose community, his assistant coaches and the wrestlers.
“A complete community effort,” said Thompson, noting many of the kids came from good wrestling families. “The kids there were hungry for a good wrestling program. ... There was already a strong tradition.
“When we came back from winning state, they lined up at the Black Canyon with a full line of cars all the way to Montrose High School. The mayor and school was involved.”
Central High School wrestling coach Laurence Gurule noticed what Thompson accomplished.
First, Gurule wrestled against Thompson’s teams in high school for Central.
“I remember Jon having great teams and really good wrestlers,” Gurule said. “You either admired him or hated him. I struggled with a kid named Doyle Gallegos. I couldn’t beat him, even though I placed higher than him at state.”
Gurule got to know Thompson better when Gurule became a coach. That’s when Thompson started officiating.
“After I became a coach I developed a new appreciation for what he had done,” Gurule said. “I got to know him as an official. He worked the Warrior. He was always one of the better officials and was invited back every year until he didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Thompson became a wrestling official in 1977, even while coaching at Montrose, and continued officiating through 2009. He officiated Colorado state tournaments in all age groups for 25 years.
Thompson continues to assist and work with several Colorado wrestling tournaments and clinics. He was named the state wrestling Official of the Year in 2009, the AAU Man of the Year in 1977 and the Colorado Coach of the Year four times. He coached one of the Colorado teams that toured Japan in 1977 and served as the vice president and president of the Colorado Wrestling Coaches Association.
Thompson has also been involved in numerous camps, clinics and tournaments within all classifications of wrestling.