‘Make ’em eat fish heads’
Brian Smith, Sports Editor
The first time I attended a Corydon Central wrestling practice, seeking out a preview story about the program’s upcoming season, was in the winter of 2007.
It was my first introduction to Richard Clipp, who, by no means, seemed all that interested in a young reporter showing up in the auxiliary gymnasium to talk wrestling. After all, he knew basketballs were bouncing on the other side of a dropped curtain separating the two sports. Hoops had to be more of a story in this state.
Once I assured the coach, who started the wrestling program at Corydon Central 30 years prior at that point, that I was there not as a one-time visit, but wanted to know more, a professional relationship formed.
The first quote I typed in print from Clipp was: ‘We’re pretty green.’
Well, that accurately described me regarding my experiences with wrestling. Through the years, I would ask what a fireman’s carry was and who came up with the ‘whizzer.’ They were terms frequently thrown about the mats at matches and practices, all initially foreign to me. Clipp shared his knowledge not only with newcomers on the mat, but with me, something he didn’t have to do.
There wasn’t just the mat-knowledge; Clipp possessed a grand sense of humor.
He once described the action at some practices as ‘bluegills on a bank flopping around.’ That, and hearing the phrase ‘Make ’em eat fish heads,’ always made me think those metaphors could fit into a T.S. Elliott work.
Until his retirement from wrestling in 2015 after 37 seasons, Clipp and his coaching staffs through the years kept expectations simple, it seemed. He often said, ‘Do the best you can with what you have.’
Be it on the golf course or the wrestling circle, athletes gravitated to those words and gave their all representing the Panthers’ black and gold.
It always amazed me during some of my visits to practice when Clipp, seeing a move not performed correctly, would stand to approach the circle, meaning it was full attention. Wrestlers gathered, in silence, ready to make necessary corrections. It was a Hall of Famer giving instructions with years of knowledge ” some taken from VHS tutorials ” with willing teenagers ready to learn.
When the season shifted to the spring and fall, Clipp was more laid back on the golf course. Beyond the updates on individual golfers, Clipp would chat about the latest ‘Diner’s, Drive-ins and Dives’ spots he either visited or wanted to visit during breaks. At the 2018 Corydon Central Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony, I told Clipp I finally made it to Hillbilly Hot Dogs, a roadside eatery along the West Virginia/Kentucky border. It drew a wide grin and a quick chat about the bizarre dive.
Then, we talked horses. Clipp, an avid collector of Kentucky Derby glasses, liked to share his handicapping knowledge with me on occasion. I grew up not far from the famed Churchill Downs, so I could read a racing form.
We’d go over handicapping strategies. My favorite from Clipp was he’d play his birthday in exotic wagers (exacta and trifecta betting for those of you not taught by Clipp) at a race track for the full card and see what would happen. The next time I’m at Churchill Downs, I’m going to use that strategy and see if I can pull a profit.
Leading up to the 2012 Kentucky Derby, I went backside one morning and the most talked about horse was I’ll Have Another, at 12-1 odds. The first person I told the hot tip to was Clipp in an email when I returned to the office. The colt won and paid $32 to win on a $2 bet.
Clipp was known to tell stories. They could be from his football coaching days to bad luck at the former River Downs racetrack to countless others.
I was lucky he shared one story about the Panthers’ most accomplished wrestler, Bailey LaHue. Clipp talked up this young wrestler for several years with a ‘you’ll see’ mindset, and he wasn’t wrong.
His junior year, LaHue had his sights set on a state championship. An anticipated showdown with Chad Red, one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the state’s history, didn’t live up to the billing. LaHue was injured in a match the night before and was no where close to 100% when facing Red.
It was quiet in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse tunnel after Red defeated LaHue. Clipp informed me later LaHue’s injury was going to force him to forfeit the consolation rounds of the tournament, so I should head on home.
Two days later, Clipp brought me to his caged-in wrestling office to share the sportsmanship a fellow wrestler showed at the state finals. A Hobart wrestler, Brendan Black, was a late addition to the state field after a forfeit. Scheduled to face LaHue for seventh-place, Black believed LaHue, ranked No. 2 in his weight class at the time, deserved the spot.
True sportsmanship was on display, and it couldn’t have happened for a better coach. The Clipper, a coach who welcomed those of all skill levels to the mat, to teach wrestling, life lessons and to do the best you can with what you have.