WOOD RIVER JCT. — Chariho High wrestling coach Scott Merritt has experienced many things during his longtime association with the sport.
During his days as a student at Chariho, Merritt was a state and New England champion. And in his 28 seasons as a coach, his teams have produced numerous state champions and All-New England wrestlers.
And Merritt has also fostered relationships with many athletes over the years, watching them grow and develop during their time on the team.
But at the conclusion of this season, Merritt experienced something for the first time — he was honored as the state coach of the year in a voice vote by his colleagues.
"I gotta say it's right up there," Merritt said. "When I won the state championship and New England championship, I was on cloud nine. And I was psyched when we won Division I-South. But to have coaches vote unanimously, it was overwhelming.
"I probably only have a few years of coaching left, and to go out with this great honor is special."
Chariho had the best season in school history this winter. The Chargers posted a regular-season record of 24-3-1. Two of the losses were to teams during a trip to Florida in December. The other loss was to Bishop Hendricken, the state champion.
Chariho finished third at the state championship meet and 11th at New Englands. Six Chargers earned academic All-State honors.
Merritt, a health and physical education teacher at Ponaganset Middle, said his first concern as a coach has little to do with the sport.
"My first goal is for them to do well in school. And I want them to make good decisions all the time," Merritt said.
Merritt said he has learned much from the sport.
"It's taught me that you control your own destiny with the decisions you make," Merritt said. "You get out of life what you put into it. Wrestling is as real as it gets. It's just you and the other wrestler on the mat.
"It's taught me that I want to be around positive and supportive people. I compare it to a game of chess. I have to out-think and be one step ahead. It's emotional. There's no other sport like it."
What advice would Merritt give to his eventual successor?
"When I first started, I was a spitfire with the refs. But I've learned, you train, give [your wrestlers] the tools, and at the end of the match do not blame the referee," Merritt said. "I would tell them to try and find a balance of hard work, camaraderie and a little bit of fun.
"I can't tell you how many hours I've seen coaches waste arguing about who should be the third or fourth seed. South Kingstown's [coach] James Barbera taught me that if you give them the tools, the cream will always rise to the top."