A clean finish: Retiring Cedar wrestling coach Luke Payne, seniors honored at last home match

CEDAR CITY — After more than two decades of coaching wrestling at Cedar High School, Luke Payne is retiring at the end of this season.

Cedar coach Luke Payne gives instructions to a wrestler during dual match vs. Pine View, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 2, 2023 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Coach Payne was recognized Thursday night at the Reds’ final home match of the season, a dual meet against Pine View.

Cedar’s 10 senior wrestlers, accompanied by their parents, were also honored before the match. The team’s three senior girls are Melbourne Earl, Kayla Garver and Ayelen “Ice” Grilli. The seven senior boys are Oscar Jimenez, Jonathan Kelly, Carson Savage, Greg Melling, Jayson Ziegler, Rayce Zobell and Jancen Payne.

“Most of these kids have been with me since they were in elementary school,” Coach Payne said as the seniors and their parents stood in a large semicircle on the mat. “One of them, I coached his dad in high school. Thank you all for your hard work, dedication, and leadership. It is truly a blessing to have you as my athletes and friends.”

Payne said he originally became part of the Cedar High wrestling staff 21 years ago “just to help my little brother a bit when he was a freshman.”

“Then, bam! Thirteen assistant years and eight head coaching years later, here we are,” he told the crowd. “In that time, I have had some of the most rewarding times interacting with every single athlete. Also, some of the most trying and heartbreaking moments … I never knew that when I started 21 years ago, the impact that coaching three different youth sports and wrestling would have on my life, and after seeing all the people here, the impact I had on others. There is no way I could thank all the people that helped me on this journey without missing someone, so thank you all.”

Payne ended his farewell by thanking those who supported his career away from the mat.

Jancen Payne and the rest of Cedar High’s senior wrestlers were recognized prior to dual match vs. Pine View, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 2, 2023 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“This journey started before I even had my two boys,” added Payne. “Now, it’s Jancen’s senior night, and by far the ones that need the biggest thank you are my wife Alicia, daughter Kya, and my two boys, Trey and Jancen, that still love me even though they had their dad as a coach.”

Following Payne’s remarks, which prompted a rousing round of applause from the hundreds in attendance, a group of younger wrestlers presented the coach with a handmade poster and small thank-you gifts.

“Now, it’s time to wrestle!” Payne said as his athletes prepared to take the mat against Pine View.

After a few girls wrestled exhibition bouts, the scored boys dual began, with the Reds taking on the Panthers.

Cedar ended up prevailing by a team score of 57-21, thus ensuring that their coach and the seniors on the team would all go out winners at home.

During the pre-match introductions, announcer Travis Wood noted that Payne is looking forward to using his newfound extra time to perfect his golf game and practice his putting skills.

Cedar wrestling coach Luke Payne and trainer Melissa Gates check a wrestler for a possible injury during dual match vs. Pine View, Cedar City, Utah, Feb. 2, 2023 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“He will finally have a weekend that will not be spent sitting on hard chairs and losing his voice,” Wood said. “He will, however, miss the excitement of the sport and the people he has made memories with along the way.”

“Coach Payne, we thank you for all you have done to teach these wrestlers about the sport you love and about life,” Wood added.

Appreciation was also expressed for Cedar’s assistant coaches Chase Powell, Nic Cohen, Launa Ingledew, Beau Blake and Tanner Findlay, along with athletic trainer Melissa Gates.

Although Cedar has wrapped up its last home match of the season, there’s still plenty of wrestling left on the calendar, starting with the 4A Divisional in St. George on Feb. 10-11. Those who qualify will advance to compete in the 4A state tournament, scheduled for Feb. 17-18 at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.

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