Youth wrestlers from throughout the state will converge on New Prague High School Saturday January 7th, 2012 to compete and attempt to qualify for the MN/USA State Folkstyle Tournament. The 35th Annual Tournament has been recently christened the “Doc Berg Classic” in honor of Dr. John and Ann Berg, Dr. Mark and Julie Berg and their family’s involvement in the event.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1977, the Berg family has been continuously involved in its operation. A short presentation will follow this year’s tournament at its conclusion around 2pm in the High School Commons. Parents and athletes who have helped run the tournament throughout the years are invited to come earlier to watch the competition and bring any stories or mementos they have to share.
Bob Soulek started the New Prague youth wrestling program in the early 1970’s. Dr. John started coaching in 1973 after Randy Stangler, the club coach at that time was going to retire. Doc John asked him to stay for another year while – Doc would take care of administrative, while Randy would continue to coach and teach Doc the ropes. The next year, Doc John, along with a number of assistants took over the coaching responsibilities.
Dr. John and Ann Berg organized the first New Prague Tournament in 1977. The Tournament started as a yearly competition among invited teams from Montgomery, Le Center and Waterville. In 1981 the Tournament became one of the first to offer a trophy to the champion and was opened to state wide competitors. In the 1990’s the Tournament moved its date to between the Christmas and New Years holidays, attracting wrestlers from throughout the Midwest. Trophies were awarded to all participants. The number of participants peaked at 623 in 1998 and every square inch of the current Middle School was utilized. In 2000 Dr. Mark and Julie Berg began organizing the Tournament, which became a MN/USA State Folkstyle Qualifier. The awards were scaled back to medals for all, but the level of competition continued at a high level. Throughout the years, Dr. John Berg has kept meticulous records of the competition brackets. Before elite high school wrestlers Seth Gross of Apple Valley, Kyle Gliva of Simley and Luke Zilverberg of Scott West earned top honors at this year’s prestigious High School Christmas Tournament, they competed in the same brackets as youth wrestlers in the New Prague tournament.
The tournament’s operation requires all the families of current youth to use their skills in tournament set-up, concessions, baking cinnamon rolls, weigh-ins, pairings, and cleanup. Current New Prague high school and middle school wrestlers and coaches volunteer their time to referee and run the scoring tables. Alumni return year after year to ref the older competitors. Parents of former youth perform tasks during the tournament such as register participants and award medals, so that parents of current wrestlers can get in the gym and watch their wrestler compete. In addition to bringing in state and national level competitors for our youth to test their skill against, the Tournament has served as the sole fundraiser for youth wrestling in New Prague. Funds raised are used to defray the costs of each New Prague participant’s T-shirt, shorts, singlet, and entry into other local, state and national tournaments. By keeping costs affordable for families, talented New Prague athletes willing to work hard but with limited means, still have a chance of competing at the highest level.
The face of youth wrestling is changing in the 2010’s, as it has for nearly all youth sports. Today, specialized wrestling training schools have sprung up; and no one questions the effectiveness in elevating the skills of the younger wrestlers. Parents are taxiing their kids to these regional wrestling classes and have less time to contribute to the local community wrestling clubs. Highly skilled athletes who have invested their own time and money into their development now move on to organizations that they see as offering them greater opportunity, often leaving a void in the chain of skilled tournament workers required to operate a youth tournament. In this changing environment, The “Doc Berg Classic” will work to remain relevant by sticking to the fundamentals of having great competition in a tournament run in an efficient manner and at an affordable cost for all.
“Drs. Mark and John Berg have been invaluable to the Minnesota wrestling community in general and the New Prague wrestling community specifically.” said New Prague Head Wrestling Coach Greg Tikalsky. “In addition to playing an official role at the state tournament, section meets or local meets, they have been seen running across a mat thousands of times tending to an injured athlete whether in an official or volunteer capacity. We are fortunate to have them as part of our wrestling community and can’t even begin to express the gratitude we have for them and their contributions.”