LIHUE — Since wrestling became a sanctioned sport in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation more than five years ago, Matt Ballard has been at the helm of Kauai High School’s program.
Change is upon the Red Raiders, though, as Ballard has chosen to take a break and step away from his position at Kauai High.
“Not really retiring because I never really did it all that long,” Ballard said. “I plan on just taking a break from coaching for now because I have a third kid coming. So, I need to support my family more.”
“I think a lot of it is, if I’m a coach, I want to be doing it right and pretty much all out,” he added. “It’s difficult having a family, I’ll have three kids at that time, and to also coach and do everything I should be doing for the team. As far as what else contributed to it, the time that it’s going to take is the main thing. I love working with those kids.”
In the five years as the school’s wrestling head coach, Kauai High has won four KIF boys and four KIF girls championships.
“I enjoyed Keli’i Morgado, the (athletic director) over there. I enjoyed working with (Kauai High School principal Anne Kane). Enjoyed all the people,” Ballard said. “I enjoyed all the people that was part of the process.”
Ballard added he’s been “blessed” to have good and flexible assistant coaches who have contributed to the program’s success.
Morgado is accepting applications to fill the vacancy.
“We’re losing a really good guy who cares about the kids, and sacrificed a lot of family time in order to build the foundation of the sport for Kauai High School and the KIF,” Morgado said. “In terms of a person, he’s a dad of a young family. That’s where that sacrifice comes in. As a coach, he just loves wrestling. He’s been wrestling his whole life. We appreciate it.
“He built a program here that was growing, and the kids are getting more and more successful,” he continued. “He took them to four preseason tournaments last year just to get them exposure and competition, and to help with their potential state rankings if they were to win the KIF in their weight class. He did a lot. He did a lot, above and beyond of what the job calls for.”
Those interested can either reach him at 274-3169 or submit resumes at the school’s front office with attention to Morgado. Deadline to apply is Sept. 1.
“Matt built the foundation. He did a great job. The next person has to continue to grow the program, to make wrestling a part of our athletic culture,” Morgado said. “Just get more kids out there. You know, wrestling is a commitment. It’s probably the toughest sport in all of high school athletics. … (I want) someone who’s going to be passionate about it, that can get kids to fall in love with the sport.”
Ballard, who is a firefighter, wrestled for two years at Yakima Valley Community College in Yakima, Wash. He then wrestled for three more years at Division II school Central Washington University, including one redshirt year. He was a two-time All-American and a national runner-up in the 165-pound weight class during his senior year.
Prior to settling on Kauai, Ballard served two tours in Iraq for the U.S. Army.
During his time at Kauai High, Ballard said he felt most accomplished when his wrestlers reached new heights — particularly at state tournaments.
“We’ve had kids go to states and win matches, and they didn’t expect to,” he said. “Seeing the look on their face, the smile coming off of that after a victory. The one that comes to mind is Justice Funamura-Sasil when she won at states. Just seeing that, because I know she worked so hard, to see her go get a win last year at states was awesome.”
“Seeing (Madison Leanio) go to the finals, to wrestle for third and fourth and last year and the previous year he wrestled for fifth and sixth,” he added. “This year, he got fourth. And the previous year, he got fifth. Yeah, seeing the kids do things that they didn’t think they were really capable of has been the highlight — seeing them ‘slay the dragon,’ so to speak.”
Ballard, who resides in Lihue, added he intends to coach again. He said if he returns, he would like to go to “wherever the KIF league is in need.”
“It would either be either, probably, Kauai High or even possibly Island School just because I live there,” Ballard said. “I’d help out in an assistant capacity as well if I return. I don’t have to go back into a head coaching role.”
He added if a youth wrestling program were to open, that could be a possibility.
“I can help out with that because I have small kids myself,” he said.