Published On: Wed, Feb 1st, 2017

Wrestling program thrives on dedication, hard work

HARTINGTON — A small but determined group of Cedar Catholic wrestlers is nearing the end of yet another long season,

Cedar Catholic will enter District wrestling action at Bennington Friday.

This has been a long and grueling season for the local mat men — a real education to say the least. Nine wrestlers started the season in conditioning. Today, only five are still competing.

If it hadn’t been for a die-hard wrestling coach, and his desire to start a new wrestling program here 13 years ago, none of these kids would be on the mat today.

Many of the athletes on Cedar’s team might not have tasted athletic success if it weren’t for Todd Ascherl. The veteran wrestling coach came to Cedar Catholic in 2004 to teach science and start a wrestling program.

Thirteen athletes hit the mat for Ascherl’s first team here.

The crafty Ascherl had his hands full, though, as very few of his 13 charges really knew what a takedown was, let alone how to execute one.

That didn’t stop Ascherl from diving in head-first, though.

“I saw some kids that were looking for a different sport than basketball, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to compete,” said Ascherl.

The competition in wrestling is unlike most other high school sports.

Yes, there is still a team, but much of it is individual competition, recognition and achievement. A wrestler can be on a terrible team that doesn’t make it to the district competition, but one kid can individually still win a state title.

Ascherl admits the first exhibition match he staged at Cedar between a few wrestlers from Morningside didn’t go as planned.

“At first the large crowd didn’t know what to do or think,” said Ascherl. “they had never seen anything like this before. Normally matches are loud with raucous crowd activity shouting out encouragement. This crowd was like a tennis match which clapped at each break. One of the wrestlers thought it was kind of cool.”

For parents, this was uncharted territory. Al and Jean Hoesing were at the first meeting with their son, Patrick, who still holds the school record for fastest pin and remains in the Top 10 for career wins.

Jean Hoesing said it was a steep learning curve for the boys that first season.

“The entire first season a lot of it was by strength alone,” she said. “Then they started developing technique after that with defensive and offensive moves. The program has come a long way since those early days.”

The Hoesing’s youngsest son, Eric, is currently a freshman on the team, wrestling at 170 pounds.

He just became the first freshman in Cedar Catholic history to win his conference weight class, and he also beat Sam Wortmann’s freshmen record for most wins by a newcomer.

It was 10 years ago this month that his brother, Patrick, became the first Cedar Catholic wrestler to ever win a conference championship.

After seeing Patrick wrestle, Eric joined a youth team where he began to learn some technique as he started to grow.

Al and Jean say Eric has learned a lot of self-discipline and body control from wrestling over the years.

“It is all about self-discipline,” said current head coach Justin Bartling, who cut his teeth on the wrestling mats at Howells. “It’s just you on the mat out there, but the brotherhood within the team is amazing. You get one-on-one time with every guy on the team, so there is a very strong bond between everyone.”

That is indeed what wrestling is all about, Ascherl said.

“At one wrestling practice to change things up I thought it would be a good idea to have the wrestlers carry each other up a flight of stairs for conditioning, but I forgot that Matt Wortmann had a disability. No one saw his disfigured legs we just saw Matt. Imagine how dumb I felt when I realized that it would be Matt’s turn to carry another wrestler on his back up the stairs,” said Ascherl. “Matt had to use crutches just to get himself around, let alone carry someone else. I quietly told Matt it was okay and he did not have to carry anyone.

“Then, I saw what a lion he was. He hollered at his reluctant teammate and said ‘get on.’ For several steps he was able to stay on his feet and when anyone else would have given up, he finished by crawling the final distance on his hands and knees. The entire time everyone was cheering while I was trying to hide my tears of admiration. You are my hero Matt.”

Wortmann is now an assistant with Bartling at Cedar.

He has that same attitude toward coaching that he had as a wrestler.

He first started coaching when another student with cerebral palsy expressed interest in wrestling. Wortmann joined to help teach Parker Olsen. Olsen wrestled all four years and earned a standing ovation as a senior at the district tournament because of his dedication throughout the four years.

“Parker [Olsen] brought me into coaching, but the kids keep me coming back,” said Wortmann. “Every year a new freshman class comes in and, with the bond that you have with each wrestler, it keeps you coming back to help them grow and to be a part of the team with them.”

Wrestling has its highs and lows, but it pushes students to greatness because they know that when they walk off of that mat, they can say that they honestly gave it their all,Wortmann said.

After Ascherl left Cedar, Eric Becker stepped in as head coach, and John Freeman helped as an assistant. Freeman is now heading, with Becker assisting, the youth wrestling program in Hartington that serves kids from preschool to eight grade.

Last year, there were 54 kids in the wrestling program. Most of the kids live in the Hartington area, but there is the option for Wynot students to participate as well.

“We have always had a pretty good turnout of the little kids,” said Freeman.” I see them being able to fill more and more weight classes in the next few years.”

There are a few wrestlers in the program that are a few years away from high school that Freeman expects will step up and help keep growing the program, and he expects to be with the youth program for a bit helping prepare kids that are interested in wrestling.

“I will probably still be coaching junior wrestling in the next 12 years,” said Freeman. “I think we are only building it and it will only get better from here. I see them being able to fill more and more weight classes in the next few years.”

Justin Bartling came on as head coach after Becker stepped aside. He has been leading the team, with Wortmann assisting, for the past six years.

Although participation has varied over recent years, there are strong signs that wrestling as a sport is growing in Hartington, Bartling said.

The community has learned a lot over the years, too.

Now a days, when fans come to the gym to watch a match, they no longer sit quietly. They yell and scream, prod and poke like any veteran fan would.