A Program and Community on the Rise – Stillwater Wrestling

High school wrestling is a sport of numbers. Get that last takedown, extend the margin of victory, work hard for the pin, fight off your back; it all helps your team win. All those numbers lead to team victories. Numbers drive youth, middle school, and varsity success as well. The more wrestlers that try the sport, the better chance of finding the right kids to help the team. Stillwater head coach Tim Hartung has numbers in all the right places. Possibly the most important number is his number of community members that have gotten involved in Stillwater’s rising program.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Hartung’s start in the sport was an escape, an escape from doing his daily chores.

“We grew up on a dairy farm, and my uncle asked us if we wanted to come with our cousins to a local tournament,” Hartung said. “My brother and I looked at each other – anything to get us out of chores, and we are in.”

It didn’t take long before Hartung was hooked.

“We were strong farm kids, so we did well right away, and my love of wrestling grew from there. I liked the physicality and the sense of individual accomplishment. Being out there all by yourself and beating another competitor – it was a feeling that was so different and rewarding from other sports.”

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Ponce Trained – In Wrestling and In Life

Before high school, Orlando Ponce wasn’t going down the best path. When introduced to wrestling, his path started going in a positive direction. After high school, when he thought wrestling was out of his life, Ponce began to go down some troubling roads again. Wrestling would get re-introduced into his life, and he has never looked back.

“My high school coach and the people who influenced me through wrestling,” Ponce said, “if not for them, I would be in a much different situation.”

Now, Ponce has devoted his life to influencing kids through his faith and through wrestling.

Ponce didn’t grow up in a wrestling hotbed.

“I was born in Nicaragua and was raised in South Florida. It was not a big wrestling community. I got a later start in wrestling. My brother started wrestling but dropped out of high school. He encouraged one of my other brothers to wrestle. This brother was a state champion and went on to wrestle for Lock Haven in Pennsylvania. I was a ninth-grader when he was a senior. My brother encouraged me to wrestle.”

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An Evolving Culture of Wrestling – Kasson-Mantorville

Regardless of the sport, coaches understand the importance of developing a culture for their particular activity. The wrestling program in Kasson-Mantorville is no different. Although the wrestling culture was growing when future head coach Jamie Heidt joined the staff, he helped accelerate that culture. Now, the KoMets are one of the best programs in Minnesota.

Heidt grew up in a state rich in wrestling culture - Iowa.

The sport of wrestling was first introduced to Heidt by one of his middle school teachers, who happened to be the high school coach at the time.

“He was a great promoter of wrestling. He would see us in the hallway and encouraged us to come out for wrestling. From youth wrestling to high school, I had great coaches that made wrestling fun, and it was a great sport to be part of,” Heidt said.

Success on the mat didn’t come early for Heidt, but he was in a good atmosphere to develop his love for the sport. He grew up in a small town – Humboldt, Iowa. The town was rich in wrestling history and was the hometown of Frank Gotch – a true pioneer in the sport of wrestling. Heidt continued to develop as a wrestler in a community and state that has a deep passion for this sport.

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A Team From Top to Bottom – Minneota Wrestling

Minneota head wrestling coach Matt Myrvik has been involved in Minneota athletics his entire life. He grew up wrestling under long-time Minneota wrestling coach Joel Skillings. Before he graduated from high school, he started the transition into coaching. This year, he took on the task of replacing a Minnesota coaching legend – Skillings. How does Myrvik plan on keeping the Minneota Vikings’ wrestling legacy going? He will continue to make the program focus on team – from the highest levels of the program to the last wrestler in the youth program.

“I started wrestling around third grade,” Myrvik said. “I don’t know how I got into it, probably there just wasn’t much to do at the time. I don’t think basketball started until 4th grade, so I tried wrestling. My family didn’t have much to do with wrestling, I just kind of found it.”

“I wasn’t the greatest wrestler,” Myrvik admitted. “I liked the hard work and that it was up to you how good you were going to be. The coaches I grew up with – Coach Skillings and some of the youth coaches at the time – did an outstanding job helping the program grow. I was fortunate to make the state tournament as a senior. I always had a winning record, but our section was tough. A lot of it was team-related for us, and that was the reason I was involved with it.”

Myrvik was involved in coaching even before he made the state tournament.

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Committed to Football, With a Little Help from Wrestling

More and more, elite athletes specialize in one sport. Even those that don’t just participate in one sport, they have a sport that is obviously primary and secondary. For Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie senior Craig Orlando – the sport he considers his secondary sport – wrestling - is possibly his best. Although football is his passion, wrestling helped build him into a Division I football player and helped him get noticed by his future school.

Orlando just finished a perfect 50-0 senior season – complete with his third straight 285A state title. The route to three state titles started early.

“My older brother used to wrestle,” Orlando said. “I don’t remember it, but my parents said I really wanted to do it, so I got started in pre-school and have been doing it ever since.”

It didn’t take long for Orlando to find success on the mat.

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Uncommon Passion, Uncommon Results – Patrick Kennedy

Wrestlers are some of the most passionate athletes on Earth. So much work goes into just being an average wrestler that it is almost impossible for a wrestler to have that passion. To become an elite wrestler, most ratchet that passion up to another level. Then you have Kasson-Mantorville’s Patrick Kennedy. Even for an elite wrestler, the four-time state champion has an uncommon passion for wrestling.

“I wrote a goal on October 8th, 2017, on a piece of paper that is on the wall that I am going to be an Olympic champion,” Kennedy said. “I am not going to do anything that I can control with my effort that would jeopardize anything that would make me not become an Olympic champion. I have become obsessed with it. (The goal) is on my phone. I write it on my assignments at school, I just want the end goal, and I am prepared to do a lot for it.”

Kennedy’s passion didn’t come from a long line of Kennedy wrestlers.

“My dad was the first person in my family to wrestle,” Kennedy explained. “My grandpa and uncle played basketball.”

Despite his lack of wrestling genes, Kennedy started early, and as soon as his family moved, his wrestling career took off.

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Putting Your Toe On The Line – Maple River

The program was a consistent winner before Dan Robbins became the head coach of the Maple River wrestling program. When Robbins took the head job before the 2013 season, he kept the program rolling. They have only had one losing season since Robbins took over. In the last two seasons, the program has won a total of 37 dual meets. How have the Eagles done it? They have done it by being ready to go the second they put their toe on the line.

Robbins was raised in a wrestling hotbed and was exposed to the sport by a young man placed in charge of the future coach.

“I grew up in Blue Earth, and we had a good wrestling following,” Robbins said. “I had a babysitter who was a wrestler, and he got me into it when I was five or six years old. We went to the same church also; he would talk to me about it. When he was baby-sitting, sometimes he would show me a double leg or a stand-up or something. I kept going from there.”

With the help of his babysitter, Robbins started in on a life-long career in wrestling.

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Crossing Rivalry Lines – Lakeville South

Since Lakeville High School split into two schools in 2005, Lakeville North and Lakeville South have been natural rivals. With kids growing up together and training in the same youth programs, the two wrestling teams add to the community rivalry. In 1997, Paul Donner started working with Lakeville wrestling. Over the years, he held coaching jobs at both Lakeville North and South. Eventually, Donner took the head job at North. He was the Lakeville North head coach up until four years ago when he decided to retire from coaching. Two years later, Donner was asked to come back – as the head coach at Lakeville South.

“I didn’t know how the kids would react,” Donner admitted. “When you have such a rivalry between two schools, you can’t even imagine putting a shirt on of the other school.”

Long before he switched school districts, Donner grew up in Clarkfield, Minnesota. He had success in wrestling right away.

“I started wrestling in fourth grade,” Donner said. “Canby was the team down there at the time. If you beat a Canby kid, you knew you were pretty good. I ended up winning Nationals in fifth grade when it was AAU.”

Wrestling wasn’t a foregone conclusion for a young Donner.

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