I’ve often believed a great deal of success for any young person can be traced to a strong family support system.

With that necessary support, the sky can be the limit for any young person. Without it and you end up with the exact opposite.

So it’s no surprise that Apalachee High School’s Austin Sheppard has a strong foundation of family support. While Sheppard is the one who has earned every accolade on the wrestling mat the past four seasons, I have a feeling the Mat Wildcat senior would be quick to point out how much he appreciates his parental support. Dick and Charlene Sheppard no doubt are basking in the glory of another state wrestling championship earned by their son Saturday. It probably hasn’t completely sunk in yet that the high school career of their son has seen its final match.

Yet, to understand the Sheppards and how much they mean not only to their son but to the entire AHS wrestling program, one only needs to turn to coach Jim Stoudenmire.

“To be as successful as Austin has been takes parental support,” the coach said. “It begins when they are driving you to USA and freestyle competitions. Once you get to the high school level, it continues.”

Stoudenmire said he has relied on Dick Sheppard for a variety of things and the parent of his most storied wrestler has delivered time and time again.

“There is no one better at running a tournament than he is,” the coach said. “He does them for us for free. You can’t ask for more from a family including having Austin as a wrestler in your program.”

Stoudenmire has directed the Mat Wildcats for the last two years and the Sheppards have been with him every step of the way.

“You don’t replace Austin Sheppard on the wrestling mat and you don’t replace what the Sheppard family has meant to us,” the coach said. “It simply can’t be done.”

The following is just one example of Dick Sheppard stepping forward to assist Stoudenmire and the AHS program:

Stoudenmire wanted to have another digital clock to use when Apalachee hosted the recent area tournament. Within an hour, Dick Sheppard had located one at no cost to the program.

“It saved us $150 and it added a touch of class to the tournament,” Stoudenmire said. “You just can’t say enough about the family as a group. From Austin working with our younger wrestlers and from Mr. and Mrs. Sheppard helping in any way we need it, you can’t get by without them.”

Strong family support helped make Austin Sheppard the champion high school wrestler he is.

A willingness to help the entire program sets the Sheppard family apart. There is no replacing them, as Stoudenmire said. You just hope somehow to get by.

Chris Bridges is sports editor of the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at cbridges@barrowjournal.com.

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