There's something to be said for perseverance, and Kenai Central High School senior William Harper is a walking billboard for the message.
"William is a great kid to have on the team," said Kenai wrestling coach Roy McKenzie. "He's not going to go out there and win every match, but that doesn't stop him from going out there and trying things and working hard every day in practice."
On the mat, the results are noticeable.
"He's easily the most improved wrestler we've had since I've been here," McKenzie, a second-year coach, said. "He's improved 10-fold."
Harper's mother, Joy, also notices the difference.
"His first two years of wrestling, it was just try to endure," she said. "Now he's a lot more positively aggressive. He tries to take charge of the match. It's been fun to see him grow."
Harper, who also runs cross country for the Kardinals, was sidetracked early in the season with a concussion, and he's had some dizziness after a couple of subsequent bumps on the head, but he still considers it his most successful season yet.
He's wrestled in 14 matches at 171 pounds, and he's had his share of wins. His goal is to make it through to the state meet, which will take place in his home gym in December.
"It's a little more successful of a year than the others," Harper said. "There's been a lot more improvement. I'm getting stronger, I have more knowledge, I have more technique and I have more endurance."
Harper's dedication to wrestling has paid dividends off the mat as well.
"It probably does keep my stress down," Harper said. "It teaches me to focus and to set goals."
Those are valuable skills for any high school student to have, and dealing with stress is especially important for Harper, who is mildly autistic.
"A lot of people with autism have problems with anxiety," Joy said. "They see everything and they hear everything, and it gets their nervous system revved up. For William, running and wrestling has been good for the same reason as for any other kid. It helps keep him calm."
Harper said that being part of a team has been important to him as well.
"I like to do individual sports, but with wrestling, you still have a team to socialize with and to train with," Harper said. "In the beginning I kind of didn't (socialize). I was pretty shy, but I learned to adapt and to enjoy it. Sometimes, you do need people to back you up."
Harper is just as determined in his academic pursuits as he is in his athletic activities. Through his junior year, Harper had a 3.5 grade point average. He said that his senior year has been a challenge, and he has a full slate of classes.
"I usually (spend a lot of time) with my homework to keep my grades up," Harper said. "My strategy with homework is to get as good a grade as I can, because I'm not really good at taking tests."
Harper's favorite subject is art, and he has been recognized for his excellence in that area. He was awarded Best in Show at last year's borough art show for a sculpture piece he submitted. Harper described the piece as "a human figure made up entirely of hands."
He said the inspiration for the piece came from a scene in the movie Labyrinth in which the heroine falls down a hole but is caught and supported by dozens of hands. The idea started out as a drawing which Harper later turned into a plaster sculpture. The piece wasn't easy to put together, and Harper said he spent an entire quarter of the school year working on it.
Harper has explored several different artistic mediums, including a computer graphics program.
"I just try them all out and see what I'm best at," Harper said. "Sometimes I feel like sculpture, sometimes I feel like painting, sometimes I feel like drawing."
Harper would like to turn his love of art into a career and is planning to attend an art school when he finishes with his high school career.
Harper's other interests include hunting. He said that he and his father Ken have had their most successful hunts for caribou on the west side of Cook Inlet.
"I've been hunting since sixth grade," Harper said. "We go in the summer, if we can find the time."
In the meantime, the wrestling season is coming down to the wire. Kenai will wrestle some meets this weekend, then head to Skyview Dec. 8 and 9 for the Area 4 Championships. The top wrestlers from that meet will advance to the State Championships Dec. 15 and 16 at Kenai.
McKenzie has a feeling that Harper's perseverance will pay off for him.
"I can relate to the way William wrestles," McKenzie said. "When I started out, I wasn't a very good wrestler, but I worked my butt off and I had a good senior year."
McKenzie appointed Harper to be one of the team's captains, and the qualities Harper sees in his teammates seem to be the same ones that make him a good choice for captain on any team.
"I respect them, and they respect me right back," Harper said. "They're hard workers, they're determined, and a lot of them have potential, too."
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