North Idaho’s Booth has the Cardinals flying high again in JUCO

Updated: November 9, 2023

Photo: Featuring their 141-pound NJCAA national champion, Brant Porter, North Idaho Community College (led by coach Derrick Booth, right) finished fifth in the team race at the national championships last March in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (North Idaho photo)

By Al Fontes

Founded in 1933, North Idaho College (NIC) is located on the picturesque shores of Lake Coeur d’ Alene in the Pacific Northwest. Serving nearly 5,000 students, NIC is also home of one of the most storied community college wrestling programs in history that dates back to 1969. 

To date, NIC has produced a national record 253 All-Americans, 56 individual champions, 14 team titles, and 34 Top-3 finishes as a team in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). 

For the last 50-plus years, NIC was led by six head coaches with Bill Pecha being the inaugural coach in 1969-70. Pecha was then followed by Les Hogan (1970-77), John Owen (1977-97), Pat Whitcomb (1998-19), Mike Sebaaly (2019-22), and more recently Derrick Booth.

This story appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of WIN Magazine. Click on the cover to subscribe. The next WIN will be printed Nov. 22.

Being an alum and NJCAA All-American for NIC in 2014, Booth was called upon by the NIC administration at the end of September 2022 to take an interim head coaching position in order to help keep the program alive for the remainder of the season due to an unplanned circumstance that required an immediate replacement of the head coach. 

Booth was at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, for two seasons. When he initially received the call from NIC, he responded without hesitation and returned to his alma mater ASAP. From day one, Booth evaluated the situation, regrouped the team, and went to work to lead them to the highest level possible. 

  “There was a lot of uncertainty within the program, but the group of guys that were here jumped on board right away and knew we could do something special,” Booth said. 

As the interim head coach, Booth did everything in his power to keep the program moving forward, even amid the difficult circumstances and uncertainty within the program. Despite NIC’s storied past, the program had not won a team title since 2013 nor had any team placed in the Top 5 in the previous eight years. 

Regardless, Coach Booth took this tough challenge head on and led the Cardinals to a solid Top-5 finish, producing an individual national champion and four All-Americans overall. At the completion of the season, the NIC administration officially opened a search for a new head coach. By late March/early April, Booth was officially named the sixth head coach in the program’s long history.

Booth has strong roots in the state of Idaho, more specifically in the Coeur d’ Alene/Post Falls area in the northern panhandle. A graduate of Post Falls High School in 2010, Booth was a two-time Idaho state placer for the Trojans. Furthermore, he was a member of the 2013 national championship team at NIC, earned All-American honors in 2014, and continued his wrestling career and education at Coker University in South Carolina. 

If last season is a leading indicator as to what to expect in the future years to come at NIC, fans are excited for the great potential that Coach Booth brings to this program. Among his long list of goals is the desire to bring back the national team title to NIC and produce up to ten All-Americans each year (NIC’s record is eight All-Americans in 1986, ’90, ’01, and ’03). 

Over and above that, he wants to create a culture where wrestlers not only excel on the mat, but also work hard in the classroom and continue to four-year institutions. 

“We strive toward academic achievement, athletic excellence and community engagement by our coaches, athletes and support staff,” Booth said. “We provide lifelong learning tools and accountability to be successful at NIC and beyond. By upholding the standard set by the coaches and athletes before us, we look to build life champions through our daily actions and habits.”

Heading into the 2023-24 season, Booth and his staff (NIC alums Cooper Thomas and Bryce Parson, an All-American in 2019) have been working tirelessly over the past year recruiting for the future. They’re trying to build a program that brings back to the reputation NIC had for several decades — tough, aggressive, and the desire to be on the mat at the highest level.

With no returning All-Americans from last season, Booth believes this year’s incoming recruits are an exceptional group. All have earned noteworthy prep accolades, including three having high school All-American honors to their credit. In essence, he believes this group has the potential to challenge for a Top-3 spot and more in the next year or so. 

On final note, for the first time in the school’s history, the wrestling program in the 2023-24 is being funded to the full NJCAA level, which includes scholarships for tuition, room and board, books and travel. 

The future is unknown at NIC, but what is known is that there is a new coach in town, one that has strong roots in the Coeur d’ Alene area and is enthusiastic, motivated and has the vision to bring the NIC program back to the forefront of national prominence within the junior-college wrestling scene. Keep an eye on North Idaho College, where the future looks bright.