A McCleary will be coaching the Napoleon wrestling team again this season, but it won't be Barry.
Barry McCleary has handed the reins over to his son Kelly and former pupil Justin Weigel after 26 years as the Imperials' head coach. McCleary, who had been involved in Napoleon wrestling since the 1979-80 school year, said the stepping down process began three years ago.
"I did it little by little. I just decided that last year would be my last," he said. "Kelly and Justin took over much of the coaching the last couple of years and they're ready. I feel I'm leaving the program in great hands. This retirement thing is going to be a little rough because I know I'm going to miss it, but I'm feeling good about what we were able to accomplish in my years here."
McCleary's resume is impressive to say the least. He coached nine state team champions as well as six state dual champions. Napoleon won six consecutive team and dual titles from 2002 through 2007. That streak included three tournaments in which it scored more than 200 points - 227 in 2005, 200.5 in 2006, and 219 in 2007. The 227-point output in 2005 is a state record. In fact, no other team in Class B wrestling has scored 200 or more points in a state tournament.
In addition, McCleary's teams won 437 duals.
McCleary served as an assistant coach under Bert Gums for six years, during which the Imperials won three state championships.
"It was a great ride. What more can I say?" McCleary said. "All of those state championships, all of those great kids. Lots of great memories. I enjoyed it ... every minute of it."
There are memories galore, but the one that stands out most is Napoleon's team victory in the prestigious Bismarck Rotary Tournament in 2007. Napoleon, which at the time had an enrollment of about 80 high school students, scored 194.5 points and had eight placewinners including four individual champions in a tournament that featured 15 North Dakota Class A schools and a number of top-flight wrestling teams from South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.
"Winning the Rotary that year was the most amazing accomplishment," McCleary said. "Here we were, a small school with under 100 kids and we went to Bismarck and beat all of those big schools. That was a very special group of kids. Their goal that season was to win the Rotary. They believed they could do it. We've always sent teams to the Rotary because it's such a great experience for the kids. We've usually done well there. It's one of the highlights of the year, wrestling with the big boys."
McCleary, the Class B coach of the year in 1989 and 2005, coached 23 wrestlers who won individual state championships, including sons Kyle, Keith and Kriss. Kriss won four straight state titles (2005 through 2008). Two other sons, Kelly and Kevin, were state finalists.
There was at least one McCleary in the Napoleon lineup every school year from 1997-98 to 2007-08.
"At first, I didn't think I would coach long enough to coach any of my sons in high school, but I wound up coaching all of them," McCleary said. "It's a tough thing coaching your kid and I admit that sometimes I had a hard time dividing being a parent and being a coach. But it was a great experience, though. They won a lot of matches and they did real well in state tournaments. I'm very proud of all of them. It was great to be there and watch it all happen."
McCleary watched his wrestlers claim a total of 37 individual state championships.
He coached 10 multiple champions.
"The greatest feeling I got was when a kid jumped into my arms after winning a state championship," he said. "It's because I know how much they wanted it and how hard they worked for it. I knew a lot of those kids since they were four or five years old, and I watched them go through the program from start to finish. To see them reach that ultimate goal is something special."
McCleary is especially proud that Napoleon has been able to churn out high-quality wrestling teams despite having a high school enrollment of under 100 most years.
"The community's commitment to sports is second to none," McCleary said. "Why have we been so successful? Let's start with the kids. They love to compete ... they love to be on the mat. They're the ones who put in the time that is needed to be better. The parents are a big part of it, too. We have great families here, families who support their kids in wrestling or whatever sport they're in. That makes a big difference."
McCleary had a number of opportunities to coach elsewhere but never seriously entertained thoughts of leaving Napoleon.
"People would ask me why I didn't go to a bigger school, but I would always tell them, ‘Why should I when I'm having so much fun?'' McCleary said. "Napoleon is a place that loves its wrestling. It's a great place for a wrestling coach to be."