After completing one of the most dominating seasons in the history of Washington state high school wrestling, Tate Orndorff was more interested in talking about his team’s success than individual glory.
Orndorff needed a pin in the championship match at the Mat Classic in Tacoma last month to vault his University High School squad to fourth place in the final 3A standings. Fifth place would mean missing out on a trophy.
The junior did not disappoint, pinning his opponent to win the 285-pound weight class in a flourish. Orndorff pinned all four of his challengers at state, wrapping up a season in which he finished 38-0 with 33 pins.
“We’ve never had a junior go undefeated,” said University head coach Don Owen. “The thing about Tate is that he’s confident, but humble. He’s not someone who’s going to be talking about himself and all his accomplishments.”
A day after winning state, Tate was in his Sunday best, attending church as a member of the Belle Terre Ward in the Spokane East Stake. He is active in his Priest quorum and currently a Life Scout. Beyond championship medals and a slew of accolades, Orndorff said wrestling provides lessons that transcend the mat.
“Wrestling is so tough – it teaches you how to work,” he said. “You learn self-discipline and how to make good use of your time.”
Orndorff actually earned a pair of state crowns in Tacoma last month. An honors student with an overall 3.98 grade point average, Tate earned the state All-Academic award in his class.
Dave Orndorff, Tate’s dad, said his son lives by gospel standards and makes it a point to set a good example in all aspects of his life.
“He’s always trying to do what’s right,” Dave said. “We’ve been so blessed with all our sons.”
Tate’s three older brothers – Tanner, Tegan and Tyson – all wrestled at U-Hi. Tanner won state at 195 pounds as a senior last year and is currently serving a Spanish-speaking LDS mission in Fresno, CA. Tegan placed seventh at state as a senior and is now on a mission in the Philippines. Tyson, a three-sport athlete in high school, served a mission in Houston, TX and is a student at BYU-Idaho.
“We have mission presidents in our ward tell us that many missionaries don’t know how to work when they enter the mission field,” Dave said. “I think you learn about focus and effort through wrestling. It’s great preparation for being a missionary.”
Dave, who serves as an assistant on the U-Hi coaching staff and was a standout wrestler at Ricks College and Oregon State, says Tate has always had “a quiet confidence” when facing all foes.
“He really thinks he’s going to win every time,” Dave said. “He’s quick, agile, strong and super, super smart out there.”
Owen, whose program has produced 19 individual state champions over the years, said Orndorff brings a unique blend of athleticism and wrestling savvy to the table. His 285 pound weight class (formerly the heavyweight division) includes wrestlers from 220 to 285 pounds. Tate wrestles at 255.
“Tate is just so calm and collected and unbelievable courageous,” Owen said. “He’s been around the sport for a long time to begin with and then he just has a great mental approach to the sport.”
Tate placed third at state last year as a sophomore, dropping a semi-final match to the eventual state champion. In addition to wrestling, he is a starter on the Titans’ football squad, earning All-Greater Spokane League honors this season for his play on the offensive line. In his spare time, he plays tennis, golf and the piano.
When it comes to wrestling on Sundays, Tate has made the decision to sit out the competition – even if it means missing out on the chance to place high or win a number of national tournaments.
“People ask me about it and I just tell them it’s the Lord’s day,” Orndorff said. “I know it’s brought me spiritual blessings.”
The Titans captured the team title in 2005, 2010 and 2013. Owen instills principles such as “being a champion 24/7” not only on the mat, but in the classroom, at home and in the community. The coach says Orndorff exemplifies the character the program strives to represent.
“He leads by example,” Don said. “He doesn’t say much, but when he does, people listen. Tate has always been very conscientious. It definitely helps when the best wrestler on the team always stays on the straight and narrow.”
Tate was part of a team that won the GSL regular season title as well as sub-regional and regional championships. His teammate Austin Stannard joined him as an individual state champ at 170. Besides Orndorff, a quartet of LDS wrestlers were part of the U-Hi varsity squad this year. The group included John Fairbanks, Braden Gamble, Jacob Soto and Kavan Nielson.
“For me, wrestling is more of team sport than football,” Tate said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie and you’re aiming for the same goals.”
As for his aspirations beyond high school, Tate plans to serve a mission at 18 and return to wrestle in college. Whatever his path, this humble champion makes it clear that correct standards will guide his way.
“I know it’s important to have my priorities in order, to have good friends and do the right thing,” Orndorff said. “I’m thankful that I have the gospel.”