And so the season starts

Last night was our first practice and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by the turnout. Yes, our numbers are up and we do have a lot of quality kids, but there were a few missing for whatever reason and one of our regional qualifiers decided he would rather sit at home then wrestle this year. That was heartbreaking for me, especially since it was a kid who I had coached in middle school and had potential to be a really good wrestler. Another kid that has wrestled since 6th grade and should have been a horse for us this year didn’t come out because he wanted to get a job.

I was also disappointed by the off season participation. A few kids went to camps and were there for open mats, but not the kind of turnout you expect from a team that wants to be really good.

However with that said I am encouraged. We picked up two quality kids this year. One is a big strong heavyweight that I think will turn out to be an all-state wrestler if he sticks with it until he is a senior. The other is a transfer from Adrian who was all-county last year and could be even better this year. We really have a lot of depth this year–going almost two deep at every weight class which is ideal!

But again, with my optimism comes pessimism. Our returning state placer has a torn ACL and is limited in what he can do. We also had some good numbers last year and by the end of the year we were struggling to fill all the weight classes. But if everyone stays out and stays healthy it should be a great year!

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The off-season begins

The season is over. Looking back it would be hard to say it wasn’t successful. More dual meet wins than the previous year. More than twice as many kids advanced to regional. Three times as many kids advanced to state (Nick Klemm, Austin Wilt and Isaiah Espinoza). And the first state placer since Ryon Barker took second six years ago (Nick Klemm 7th). Not to mention all of this with the only senior on the squad out with an injury.

There is excitement among the wrestlers about what could be next year. The off-season is now upon us. There is talk of going to many camps. There is talk of lifting hard. There is talk of taking advantage of open mat possibilities. There is talk of getting new people to wrestle so the team fills every weight class and has some depth. There is a lot of talk. When or if the talk turns to commitment is when the coaches will get excited. The coaches know these things are out of their hands and it must be every individual wrestler who takes the reigns.

Teams have been here before: a crossroads of sort where one path is difficult and the other easy. One path leads to greatness, the other to obscurity. One path the risks are great, the other is safe. Time will tell which path the team takes.   

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Individual districts (Jubilee and a Cruel Mistress)

The 2012-2013 madison Trojans took to the mat this morning in search of individual glory. The top 4 wrestlers at this tournament advance to Regionals next week with an opportunity to become All-State wrestlers. For the others the season is over.

Overall Madison wrestlers did great! Nine of our wrestlers finished 4th or better and Nick Klemm won a District Championship. Placing were: Freshman Dayton Klama (3rd), Junior Austin Wilt (2nd), Sophomore Jacob Knisel (4th), Junior Drake Tovarnak (3rd), Junior Nick Klemm (1st), Junior Isaiah Espinoza (2nd), Sophomore Aaron Pifer (4th), Freshman Garrett Vansickle (2nd), and Junior Jacob Hamilton (3rd). All those guys will wrestle in Hudson next week with a chance to finish in the top 4 again which will mean they will qualify for States (yes, that is a big deal!).

What feels like a kick in the groin to me right now is the Cruel Mistress that put her icy embrace on a couple of our wrestlers. First of all is Freshman Michael Burger who works his tail off and has improved a great deal this year. Michael got stuck in the round of 16 (one loss and your done) wrestling the number 2 seed. Even though he lost I thought he wrestled really well, but it didn’t matter because the loss meant his season was over. The second heartbreak was Sophomore Richard Clees getting pinned in the third period of the blood round (win and you’re in, lose and you’re season is over) after being up 4-0. It was crushing. I still feel sick over it. Wrestling is tough. You can wrestle well for most of the match and make one mistake and it’s over.

To bring this back to the purpose of this blog I hope the 9 that advanced will be encouraged and build on their successes for next year. For those whose heart are broke I hope it will motivate them to work even harder. My oldest son was a state qualifier as a sophomore and to a man I’ll tell you he stopped working hard after that. He felt he had arrived. Remember in the previous blog I mentioned that when Kettering turned it around it was because 8-10 wrestlers committed to off-season workouts…my oldest son wasn’t one of them and he never returned to the state tournament. So I hope today’s results will encourage, motivate and ultimately be a catalyst to take us where we want to be next year.

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Team Districts

Last night the Trojan grapplers lost in the district finals to Sand Creek, sadly we didn’t just lose we were destroyed scoring just 12 points. I reflected (read: dwelled) on this last night as I tried to sleep. What is it about Sand Creek that makes them so much better than us and are we prepared to turn the tables next year.

When my oldest son, Terry Jr., wrestled in high school there was a similar situation. He wrestled for Waterford Kettering and it was Waterford Mott, our rival, who kicked our butts during the season and in the district finals. Kettering was able to turn the tables and even become a dominant team for a few years. How did it happen?

I came up with 5 things that must happen if the Madison Trojans are going to turn the tables and capture a district championship over Sand Creek next year.

1. We have to stay healthy. Some of staying healthy is just dumb luck, some is better facilities (kids hitting a padded wall rather than a brick wall), some is kids taking better care of their bodies (eating healthier, being oriental (inside joke) about keeping clean, stretching, etc…) and some is simply kids being tougher and realizing they are going to have aches and pains during wrestling season.

2. We have to develop a team concept and cheer for one another. Too many times kids wanted to leave after they were done (individual tournaments) and not support their teammates. Too many times we didn’t look out for one another during school and during practice. We need a sense of Esprit de corps (the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group).

3. We need off-season commitment. I’m not saying it has to be wrestling, wrestling, wrestling and no other sports. But wrestlers need to be working out in the off-season, they need to take advantage of open mats, and they need to go to a camp or two. We were totally out-physicaled by Sand Creek. Some of the kids were over heard commenting how big and strong the Aggie wrestlers looked compared to us. Why? Because they lifted in the off-season. The off-season before Kettering turned the tables on Mott, we had 8-10 kids committed to coming in for open mats and lifting 3-4 days a week. Of those 8-10 kids 7 of them went on to be state qualifiers.

4. We need to encourage other kids to come out for wrestling. The more wrestlers, the more depth, the better our chances will be. Who knows there may be a diamond in the rough wandering the halls of Madison with nothing to do in the winter months. We need to promote wrestling in the best of lights and get as many to come on board as possible.

5. And finally we need to sell the bleep out when next season starts. Jerry Rice was known for his legendary workouts both before and during the season. His famous quote is: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” We have to practice harder than our opponents. We have to be at every practice. We have to avoid drama and work hard in school to ensure we are not only present, but mentally tuned in and ready to give it all we can all the time.

There is an old English Proverb that says: “Those at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”

Are we ready to do what is necessary to get on top? Are we ready to turn the tables?

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Jan 30, 2013


It was our first home meet of the year and it came late in the season. I had hoped for a larger crowd, but Madison isn’t known for wrestling; the program really has not accomplished much since winning a bunch of state titles in the 70s–it even went a few years without a wrestling program until Charlie Evans resurrected it almost a decade ago. I coached with Charlie his last year at Madison High School and then I took over the middle school program when Scott Hall came on board to coach the high school team. Last year I returned to help out as an assistant coach with the varsity squad. Jordan Duckett, Nate Hall, Mike Rueda, and Aaron Barker round out the coaching staff. I’m also the father of our 215 pounder.

The team dispatched a small Morenci team quickly (winning 3 of the 4 matches) in the first bout. Next up was one of our rivals–Clinton High School. Clinton had beat us quite soundly in our first meeting of the year and it left a bitter taste in our mouths. I looked at our line up and sighed, it didn’t seem things would go much better this time around. We had four starters out: junior Tyler Staup (152) recently had knee surgery and was done for the year, junior James Counts (112) broke his hand in practice and was done for the year, freshman Austin Castaneda (125) broke his arm in a horrific way on the mat a few weeks earlier and was also done for the year, and finally, arguably our best wrestler, junior Nick Klemm was out sick. It didn’t look good.

The dual started at heavyweight which Madison won with a void. I think I started to believe we might win when freshman Dayton Klama, our 103 pounder who had been on fire beat a kid who had previously beaten him to put us up 12-0. Junior Austin Wilt gave me even more hope when he wrestled a great match against state ranked Michael Sexton despite some questionable officiating. Austin didn’t win, but he didn’t give up any bonus points which left us with a 12-9 lead. Two matches later I was confident we would win this dual meet. Sophomore Jacob Knisel stuck his opponent–someone who had beaten him earlier in the year–to make it 18-9. Then Junior Drake Tovarnack outlasted his opponent–once more someone who had beaten him earlier in the year–to put Madison up 21-9. Junior Isaiah Espinoza (Zeke) glued his opponent to the mat to make it 27-15 with 5 matches to go.

I started doing the math in my head. I was sure Jacob Hamilton, one of our captains, would win by pin so that would give us 6 more points and meant that only one of our underclassman would have to win to give us a victory. Things didn’t work out quite the way I expected.

Sophomore Aaron Pifer (152) was up in his match before he made a mistake and went to his back getting pinned making the score 27-21. I started thinking that this dual meet was going to come down to the last match and I whispered to our 215 pounder that we were going to need him to step up big-time. Freshman Michael Burger (160) fought hard and again a questionable call came into play. Michael was charged with a locked-hands violation which was argued by the coaching staff to the tune of costing us one team point. This energized Clinton and their 160 pounder pinned Michael to make the score 26-27. Freshman Garrett Van Sickle was controlling his opponent when he too went to his back and got stuck giving Clinton a 26-33 lead with two matches to go.

Junior Jacob Hamilton, Hammy, was up next against a tough senior from Clinton. I thought Hammy would be able to pin him, but he narrowly escaped with an 8-6 victory making the score 29-33 with one match to go.

I looked at Sophomore Richard Clees, my son, and said “we need a pin”. What kid doesn’t dream of stepping to the plate with the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth or catching the game winning touchdown in sudden death overtime or hitting a three point shot for the win as the clock expires? My heart was in my throat, I couldn’t imagine what Richard was feeling. He looked confident, but it was hard to tell. Coach Hall smacked him on the backside and yelled let’s do this as he made his way to the scorers table.

Kirk Gibson, one of my favorite baseball players, always said he wasn’t a great player, but he managed to hit a couple of great home runs in World Series play that will always be remembered. Richard isn’t a great wrestler, not yet at least, but in that moment he hit it out of the park and pinned his opponent giving Madison the 33-29 victory!

I was proud and when no one was looking I shed a tear or two of joy as the team jumped around my son. After the celebration I looked at the score again and looked at Nick Klemm who didn’t get to wrestle and wondered when was the last time Madison pulled off something like this with their horse (an almost guaranteed 6 points) on the bench. We hadn’t done it when I coached with Charlie and Ryan Barker was our horse. I’m pretty sure you would have to go back to those special teams of the 70s to find something like this happening.

It was then I realized we hadn’t put a senior on the mat that day (our only senior Marcus McClain sat and let sophomore Dan McKenzie take the void at heavyweight) and I thought maybe this team can be special. Maybe this is the launching pad for a great season next year. Maybe this will be the catalyst that will put Madison back on the wrestling map.

A newspaper article about this dual meet can be found at:

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ImageHave you ever lived an event and several months or years later wish you had captured it somehow? That has happened to me over and over again. In this particular instance I don’t want it to happen again. Some may say I’m jinxing everything by writing about it as it happens and although I am a little superstitious I don’t feel this will be a jinx.

I am going to write about the Madison Trojans 2013-2014 high school wrestling season…I think it is going to be special. This blog is inspired by the book “A Season on the Mat” by Nolan Zavoral which details an Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling season. Perhaps someday I’ll use this blog to make what happens into a book, or maybe it will just exist in cyberspace for those few that stumble across it.

I think the foundation for the 2013-2014 season was laid this year–more specifically last Wednesday night and that will be the subject of my next post.

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