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Reflections from a wrestling coach

Special to the Economist

Written after losing the team state dual final, 45-23, to New Hampton
As a wrestling coach for the past 10 years, I would consider every team I’ve worked with a special team. That being said, some teams stand out among the excellent and rise to a higher level. This was most certainly the case for this year’s Solon wrestling team. When speaking of excellence, it is not necessarily warranted with on-mat accomplishments, although this team has many.
What makes this team special is the love and friendship these young men have for each other. The way they support and challenge each other in the same breath. The fierce loyalty they show for one another. What makes this team special is a bond that is rare to find.
Watching this team walk off the mat after losing in the state dual final on Wednesday night, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, tears stubbornly seeping from their eyes, heads refusing to rise as they walked from the mat one final time, I sadly felt that this was not the ending this special team deserved. The drive back to the team hotel was silent, and from that silence a thought started to rise within me. Not a thought, but more of a vision. A vision of boys who develop into men. Men who become stalwarts of this community and others. I envision businessmen, doctors, firefighters, electricians, engineers, paramedics, teachers and endless other possibilities. I see men who someday return to the old, familiar Solon gym decades from now for a recognition of this special team during a dual meet. Men who show up with loving wives and paunchy guts. Men holding hands of young sons and daughters who struggle to grasp that their father was ever a spry, weight-cutting wrestler. I see men who embrace each other with backslaps and hugs, instantly joking with one another as they did in those corner camps of high school gyms many years before. I see men standing in the middle of the mat, waving to elderly parents and former coaches who gather to remember this special team on a chilly, Thursday night. Finally, I see men leaving the mat with arms draped over each others shoulders, tears stubbornly seeping from their eyes, but with heads held high.

Feb. 19, 2017
Written after winning the traditional team title in Class 2A over New Hampton by a score of 96.5 to 96
As I sit in my hotel room at 3:12 a.m. after taking part in winning a state team title, I can’t help but look back at the words I wrote several days ago and smile. Of course, this team would refuse to go out as anything less than champions, because that is who these young men are; champions. I now envision a different future than I did on Wednesday night. A future where my son, currently age 2, looks at the 2017 state wrestling championship sign every time we drive into town and wonders if he and his teammates have what it takes to match it. I look forward to a night when my son, at age 16 or 17, is reintroduced to Zach Wegmann and Tyler Linderbaum before a dual meet. The night when Nash Bevans shakes hands with Ben Carr and Trevor Nelson and thinks these middle-aged men don’t look like the heroes he’s heard stories about. Our sons seeing the West brothers and wondering how these small, quite men were ever the demigods the record boards in the wrestling room show them to be. I imagine our sons rolling their eyes at the tall tales of Graeson Dall wrestling with a broken leg, not unlike some sort of modern day Paul Bunyan. “Dad, did he really pin the defending state champ with three bones sticking out of his leg?”
“You’re damn right he did, son. We wouldn’t have won it without him.” 
What I’ll preach most to my son about this team is their fortitude and camaraderie. The teamwork they showed throughout this season could possibly, hopefully, be matched by other Solon wrestling squads but it will never be surpassed. What happened in Solon, Iowa, from November 2016 through February 2017 was special, and I am so thankful that I got to play a small role in it.
I speak to all of the wrestlers who were a part of this team this year when I say that in the eyes of my son, Coach Kidwell’s son, Coach Williams’ son, Coach Bevans’ sons and countless other future wrestlers in the community, you have become the standard they will relentlessly pursue. I thank all of you for setting such a high standard of wrestling, character, teamwork and perseverance for our future wrestlers to emulate.

Jake Munson is the Solon High School success coordinator and an assistant coach for the Solon High School varsity wrestling team.