John Epperly finally can celebrate his birthday.
The Robinson High School senior, who has been one of the best wrestlers in Virginia for four years, had to postpone his 18th birthday party (Feb. 21) to prepare for the Northern District, Northern Region and State wrestling titles at 126 pounds.
Now, he will be able to have a piece of cake. And no one will tell him he doesn't deserve it.
Saturday night at Robinson, Epperly won his third state title and led the Rams to the team championship, 111 1/2-108 1/2, over second place Cox High.
"It's a nice way to celebrate," he said. No more diets and no more weigh-ins. Just a couple more months of high school classes and he's on to college.
Although he hasn't chosen a college, he will take with him an extremely impressive high school record of four consecutive district and regional titles. He's the only Northern Virginia wrestler to achieve that since Pat Griel of Lake Braddock in 1975-78.
More important, he has won state titles as a freshman, sophomore and this year as a senior. His last title might carry the most meaning because it offset last year's poor, for him, showing in the states. He finished sixth at 119 pounds.
"This year there was a lot of pressure to make up for last year," he said. "I was definitely down. Both of the kids that beat me in the states, I had beaten earlier in the year."
For four years he has a 99-3 record. Some people might say he had inside help; Robinson's coach is father John Epperly Sr., who also has an impressive career record.
"I feel very fortunate and very proud," the senior Epperly said. "When he was a freshman, we had no idea he would do so well. He just kept winning and winning. It's nice working with him because he tells me what he thinks and not what I want to hear."
Epperly Sr. can be called a Northern Virginia wrestling institution and no one would argue.
In his 13 years as the Rams' coach, he has a 122-19 dual-meet record. He has produced 39 district champions with 60 titles, 20 regional champions with 35 titles, and nine state champions with 13 titles.
The elder Epperly has led Robinson to 10 district titles, eight regional titles and three state titles. Only Billy Martin, John Epperly Sr.'s high school coach, who led Granby High School of Norfolk to 22 state titles in 23 years (from 1949-1971), has a better record.
"I really enjoyed working with my father." said Epperly Jr. "We go home from practice and talk about things. We go down on the living room floor and work out a couple things. I know what he wants to accomplish and he knows what I do wrong."
After winning nearly 20 consecutive matches this year without a loss, Epperly entered the state tournament with a mission. He accomplished it by defeated Greg Rogers of Oakton in the championship match, 5-3.
"It was something I really wanted to do," he said. "I'm glad (my career) ended up well. I wanted to leave on a good note."
Few wrestlers will be able to leave on as good a note as Epperly.