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Wrestling began as an escape from childhood chores for Tabb Coach Doug Roper, whose father made him choose between playing sports and doing work at home.
What began as an escape turned into a lifelong passion for Roper, who learned he is being inducted into the Virginia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in April.
Roper learned of his induction through a letter he received in the mail in December from the Virginia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
His reaction: a mix of shock and surprise from a man who has always considered himself a teacher first — Roper teaches history at Tabb — and a coach second.
“It’s stunning to say the least,” said Roper, who has a career coaching record of 375-220-4. “It’s something I never expected. I’ve always enjoyed wrestling because it kept me out of trouble. I just kept plugging away and doing what I enjoyed. I guess someone noticed and appreciated it.”
Roper’s wrestling career began at the now defunct Ferguson High School in Newport News where he aspired to play basketball. However, Roper was cut from the basketball team in eighth grade and took up wrestling instead.
From there, Roper wrestled throughout high school and went on to wrestle three years at Elon University before sustaining a knee injury.
Roper’s first coaching job came in 1977 as an assistant at Western Alamance High School in North Carolina. After one year of coaching at Western Alamance, Roper made his way to Tabb where he became an assistant coach for one year. Roper later moved to Bruton and served as an assistant coach for two years.
In 1982, Roper got his first head-coaching gig when he was hired to lead Bruton’s wrestling program. Roper’s tenure at Bruton was short-lived, however, and he returned to Tabb as an assistant coach after one year coaching the Panthers.
Patience paid off for Roper when, in 1985, a vacancy opened up for head wrestling coach at Tabb. Roper was hired for the position and has not looked back since, coaching 10 individual state champions and leading Tabb to a second-place finish in the state tournament during the 2006-07 season.
With 32 years dedicated to Tabb’s wrestling team, Tabb Athletic Director Susan Wiker said Roper has become the face of Tabb wrestling.
“When you mention Tabb wrestling, he is the only name people know,” she said. “Doug has given his whole life to Tabb High School. If we need help in anything, he’s willing to do anything for the school. This is his life.”
Roper was quick to reciprocate his appreciation of Wiker, as well as the Tabb community and administration.
High school wrestling teams can sometimes have difficulty with obtaining the resources necessary to be successful given the niche nature of the sport. It is for this reason Roper is grateful to Tabb’s students, parents and administration, for giving him and his wrestlers the support necessary to thrive.
“I’ve been very much blessed to be around people who are supportive and appreciate wrestling,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who have helped me over the years.”