It’s common practice among high school wrestlers to display a safety pin on their letterman’s jacket to represent every pin they have registered.
Darren Harris does not take part in this practice — which is probably for the best. Otherwise, the Yelm senior would be wearing something that more resembled medieval chainmail armor.
Harris, already the state’s career pins leader with 110, will look to add a third state championship to his résumé at Mat Classic 27, which begins Friday at the Tacoma Dome.
Harris without question will be the favorite in the Class 4A 126-pound division. In addition to his gaudy career-pins total, Harris brings with him a career mark of 119-7 — including 60-0 with 56 pins over the past two seasons. He won the 120-pound state title last year, the 106-pound championship as a freshman and was the runner-up at 113 as a sophomore.
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So his legacy as one of the area’s all-time premier wrestlers is already secure regardless of what he does at state this year.
However, he is four wins away from reaching a completely different stratosphere among local prep wrestlers.
Should Harris capture the 126-pound state crown, he will join the rare fraternity of Thurston County high school wrestlers who have won three or more state championships.
The list has three names. Tumwater’s Randy Wollen was the first, winning 108-pound titles in 1975 and 1976 and the 135-pound crown in 1977.
After 24 years, Wollen finally got some company when Capital’s Steve McGettrick won three titles between 1998 and 2001.
Black Hills graduate and current River Ridge coach Jimmy Belleville is the final member, notching his third state championship as a junior in 2008 before adding a fourth title for good measure during his senior year in 2009.
“If he pins his way to another state championship, he has to be in the discussion,” Yelm coach Gaylord Strand said about where Harris fits into the all-time local greats. “We will know more after this weekend.
“He certainly has to be considered one of the top guys to come out of our program.”
Given Strand’s success during his 41-year tenure with the Tornados — he has coached 18 state champions — his last comment carries a lot of weight.
One of those was Harris’ brother, Dillon, who won a pair of state titles at Yelm before graduating in 2012.
“I remember just being really excited as a seventh grader when I went to watch Dillon wrestle for a state title his freshman year,” Harris said. “I didn’t want to wait two more years. I wanted my high school career to start right then.”
Harris has found nothing but success once he first slipped on the Yelm singlet. In 2012, he became the first Tornados freshman to win a state title — an accomplishment he ranks as his favorite over the past four years.
“That one probably means the most to me,” Harris said. “No freshman (for Yelm) had won state before. It was my first title. That one ranks pretty high on the list.”
The title win also helped Yelm finish second in the 3A team standings. The next season the Tornados were reclassified to 4A. It did little to slow Harris, who again advanced to the state finals.
Harris dominated his first three opponents at 113, posting an 11-3 victory in the first round before winning both his quarterfinal and semifinal matches by pin — each lasting shorter than a minute. A second consecutive state title wasn’t to be, however, as Harris was pinned shortly into the second round by Noah Cuzzetto of Edmonds Woodway.
“I got caught,” Harris said of the loss. “I think more about that match than any other. Things I should have done differently. I hate losing. That one stuck with me, but you end up using the defeat as motivation.”
And he hasn’t lost since, going 35-0 with 34 pins as a junior and 25-0 with 23 pins this season.
“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” Harris said about his individual achievements. “I’ve always gone match to match. It really doesn’t matter what you did before. I will probably appreciate it more once the season’s over.”
Yelm has finished sixth overall in each of the past two seasons and has 14 state participants and one alternate this season, giving the Tornados a strong chance to contend for the team title.
Harris seems more excited about leaving that as his legacy.
“Winning another state championship has been the goal all season,” Harris said, “and it will be great if that happens, but knowing it’s the last time I will wrestle for Yelm will be tough. It’s really been an honor to be part of this team. If I could help us win the team title, that would mean more to me.”