Joe Renfro, who has guided Labette (Kan.) Community College to two national championships and a pair of runner-up finishes in 11 seasons, will be in charge of rekindling the Northeastern A&M wrestling program. Renfro has been head wrestling coach at Labette, located in Parsons, Kan., since 2002. He added the role of assistant athletic director in 2007. Renfro was introduced during a press conference Thursday morning.
Also unveiled Thursday morning were plans for a multi-million dollar multi-purpose facility that will house locker rooms and a practice area for the program. “I am excited about the energy they are putting into it and the enthusiasm,” Renfro said. “It sounds like a wonderful situation for all of us. I am going to do the best I possibly can.”
Renfro will remain at Labette through the end of this season, then will jump feet-first into the NEO job. “We will focus on this year, do what we need to do and get the job done,” Renfro said. “We will do the same thing we normally do, and that is to win it (the national championship).”
“NEO has a storied history of creating opportunities for young Oklahomans to continue to pursue their dreams after high school,” said Northeastern A&M President Dr. Jeff Hale. “The return of the NEO wrestling program is no exception. I’m pleased that our athletic director, Dale Patterson, was able to hire the most successful junior college wrestling coach in America, and I look forward to Joe Renfro building on the NEO tradition of excellence in education and athletics.”
NEO fielded a wrestling team from 1975-1993, producing 24 NJCAA All-Americans, including four first-teams, and numerous placers at the national tournament. Ray Judkins established the program, compiling a 36-19-2 record between 1975-77 and then in 1984-85. Bill Yocum was 24-13-3 from 1978-81 and Alan Lauchner was head coach from 1986-93. His teams were 45-26-1. “I think we have hired the best junior college coach in the United States,” Patterson said. “With the announcement of the new multi-purpose facility, they will have an outstanding wrestling complex for practice and a locker room. This shows the commitment the college has made to make sure we have everything necessary to be highly competitive and to have a program that will attract students.”
Renfro was a four-time Kansas high school state placer, including winning a state title, before he went on to wrestle for former Labette coach Jody Thompson from 1995-97. At LCC, he earned two All-American titles and an academic All-American honor. He finished his collegiate wrestling career at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, where he again earned All-American honors. Renfro was an assistant coach at Nebraska-Kearney from 1999-2000 then joined Thompson at LCC in 2000. He took over as the Cardinals’ head coach in 2003.
Labette is the defending NJCAA national champion. The Cards also were national champs in 2005, runners-up in 2010 and 2007, third in 2008 and 2006, fifth in 2011 and 2009, sixth in 2004 and seventh in 2003. Labette were the 2006 NJCAA/NWCA National Dual Meet tournament champs. The Cards have finished second in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2007 and they were third in 2009 and 2008.
Renfro’s team was the 2008 NJCAA Wrestling Coaches Association academic team of the year in 2008. Renfro has coached nine individual national champions and has been honored as the national coach of the year in 2005, 2010 and 2012. He has coached 55 All-Americans and 62 Academic All-Americans. “We have been very fortunate, but not as fortunate as I would like to be or we would have had 11 (national titles),” Renfro quipped.
NEO will be just the fourth school in the state with a wrestling program. Oklahoma State has won 34 team national championships (three unofficial) and 134 individual NCAA championships, while Oklahoma has won seven team and 65 individual national titles. Central Oklahoma in Edmond has won eight NAIA and seven NCAA Division II championships. “We hope there will be 30 to 40 wrestlers every year living on campus, going to classes and being part of our program,” Patterson said. “We think we can attract outstanding student athletes.”
The 41-man 2012-13 roster at Labette lists 17 Oklahomans, including Spencer Rutherford of Grove, who was a three-time state runner-up for the Ridgerunners. Renfro’s wife, Elisabeth, is a kindergarten teacher at Guthridge Elementary School in Parsons. They have three children, Lincoln, 7; Isabella, 6, and Jace, 4.