Plastic Trophies to Olympic Medals

By Brian Jerzak

There never has been much doubt in the mind of St. Michael-Albertville wrestler Mitchell McKee. He had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do at a young age. Most kids have an idea of what they want to do when they get older, but few have the talent and drive of a guy like McKee. From the day he invited his friend over for a play date in kindergarten, Mitchell McKee knew he wanted to be a wrestler.

McKee’s goals are much higher now than they were when he invited his friend over for a weekend play date, but big goals always have to start small.

“I invited (Mound Westonka senior) Lee Schmalz over, but his dad said he had a wrestling tournament first,” recalled McKee. “He came over afterward and he brought his trophy with him. Once I saw the trophy I knew I wanted to wrestle. I started that next Tuesday.”

When he had success at his first national tournaments, McKee knew he had a chance to get to an elite level. Watching others succeed heightened his drive.

“I started watching all the Division I championships and when Jake Deitchler was an Olympian I wanted to do that. Just seeing it first hand – as a wrestler – I wanted to do the same thing.”

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Turning Dreams Into Reality – Joe Russell

By Brian Jerzak

Former Minnesota Gophers’ wrestler and assistant coach Joe Russell has seen the extreme highs and lows that wrestling and life have to offer. His wrestling life has been a series of dreams and realities. Although personally not his greatest challenge, after helping to build Minnesota into a national power, Russell took a leap of faith four years ago and took over a struggling George Mason wrestling program. Like Russell’s career, when he talks to prospective George Mason recruits he alternates between showing young men his dreams for the Patriots’ program, but also the realities.

Russell’s father was a high school wrestling coach in Idaho before the family moved to Oregon, so the future Gopher was exposed to the sport right away. He started competing as a four-year-old. He had some success early, but when Russell and his older brother were exposed to television – things changed.

“My dad didn’t think kids should watch TV – we didn’t have a TV in the house. Before the Olympics in 1976 when I was eight years old he bought a TV so we could watch the Olympics. I got to watch Jon and Ben Peterson wrestle. My brother and I wanted to be like the Peterson brothers. We told our dad we wanted to do what the Peterson brothers did. Fortunately, our dad took it seriously. He set us down and explained to us what it would take to get to that level, and we still wanted to do it.”

The dream was in place. The Russell brothers wrestling ramped up from there. Within a few years, they were wrestling year-round. Joe started to have success at a national level and by the time he was a junior in high school, he was one of the most highly coveted high school wrestlers in the nation.

That summer reality came crashing down on Russell and changed the course of his life forever.

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Brotherly Advice – Nathan Rose

By Brian Jerzak

As a young kid he didn’t even want to wrestle. Now he is preparing for his senior season and a run at a third straight state championship. Sibley East 195 pounder, Nathan Rose, went from nervous about even participating in the sport to one of the best high school wrestlers, not only in Minnesota, but in the nation.

“My brothers both wrestled, but I didn’t want to,” said Rose. “I thought I was going to hurt somebody. I thought it was like WWE, but they talked me into it one year.”

Rose, who started wrestling in kindergarten, had success right away. His first year he was second in the NYWA, then two years later he started a run of three straight titles.

“When I was young I only lost a handful of times.”

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The Transfer Debate – Many Shades of Gray

By Brian Jerzak

Two years ago I had a few conversations with The Guillotine brass about doing this story. I am not ashamed to admit it, but I chickened out. Even as I am writing this I don’t know if I am going to let this get into print. When I was trying to come up with an angle, I realized that part of the reason I was interested in doing the story this time around was I didn’t know much about it. I wanted to know what I didn’t know. I would guess a number of high school sports fans are in the same boat. They hear rumors and think they know, but like me, probably don’t.

My intentions are not to single out any one program, coach, athlete, or as I found out – athletic director. My intentions are to show both perspectives and let the reader decide. I did go into the story with a personal bias, but by the time I got done interviewing a number of people not only in wrestling, but other sports, as well as the media, I got frustrated because I realized I could see both sides of the debate. I was hoping for an issue that was black and white, but in the world of high school transfers there is a whole lot of gray.

One quick disclaimer - while doing research I talked to five current wrestling coaches, two retired wrestling coaches, a boy’s basketball coach, a girl’s basketball coach and a member of the media who covers high school sports mainly in the metro area. Some of the coaches were fine with me using their names for this story and some asked to remain anonymous. Because of the sensitive nature of the story I decided to leave almost everyone anonymous. I also tried to contact the Minnesota State High School League multiple times and did not receive a response.

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