Call It the Denker Effect
By Matt Bird-Meyer
Roger Denker never wrestled in high school or college. He simply knew how to lead and inspire people, find the best assistants to demonstrate moves and bring to the University of Central Missouri the right athletes to form solid collegiate squads. Many of these athletes still cherish Denker as a mentor, motivator, father figure, role model and lifelong friend.
"In the last decade, a large majority of all state wrestling titles have been won by products from Coach Denker. He's recognized as the grandfather of modern Missouri wrestling," says Gary Mayabb, head wrestling coach at Staley High School in Kansas City.
Denker was Central Missouri's head wrestling coach for 17 seasons, from 1963 to 1981, claiming seven MIAA titles in that time. In fact, Denker had all but one of the MIAA crowns for the Mules before UCM stopped competing in the conference after 1986. He was inducted into the UCM Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001 and into the Missouri Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame two years later. This year marks the 17th season for the tournament named in his honor, the Roger Denker Open at UCM.
Denker, now 76 and enjoying retirement with his wife, Connie, in Hot Springs Village, AR, still attends sports banquets for the kids of his former wrestlers. He sends notes if he can't make a birthday party, and his protégés frequently call him for advice or just to keep in touch. And his protégés are doing astoundingly well.
Denker can list the names of at least 50 of his former athletes and students who went on to make careers as wrestling coaches and officials. Thirteen of them are coaching in Missouri high schools, including Brett Barbarick at Raymore-Peculiar; Bill Biggerstaff, Lee's Summit North; Phil Dorman, Platte County; Bill Erneste, Park Hill; Ron Franklin, Pleasant Hill; Tony Griffith, Parkway South; Mike Hammer, Liberty; Roger Offield, Odessa; Ray Stockdale, Knob Noster; Joe Greim, Excelsior Springs; and Scott Vitek, Smithville.
"I know I probably missed a dozen or so," Denker says during a telephone interview. "There's a whole bunch in the Kansas City area, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Arizona... It's really kind of interesting."
Mayabb is one of Denker's wrestlers who achieved extraordinary success as competitors, coaches and officials. Two others are Mike Hagerty and Jimmy May.
"They are three of the finest coaching examples," Denker says. "I can't say enough good words about all of them. They are three of the most unique people in the world.