Hunter Machus remembers the many times he sat among the purple-clad fans at Kellogg Arena, hoping to one day be on the mat where he could make his hometown of Bronson proud.
And after three close calls, Machus and the other members of the Viking wrestling team will finally get that opportunity today when Bronson wrestles in the quarterfinal round of the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 4 Team State Wrestling Tournament.
“Every year since I was little it was a thing that you always did, it was a part of tradition in Bronson to go over and watch at Kellogg,” said Machus. “Everyone is there, it’s a like a family reunion.”
Seventh-ranked Bronson (21-0) will take on Sand Creek (25-9) starting at 5:30 p.m. After falling short in the regional finals the past three seasons, today will mark the first time the Vikings have wrestled at Kellogg Arena since 2009.
It was a tradition the Bronson wrestling program and its fans became accustomed to, as the Vikings have advanced to Battle Creek eight times since 1999, including a pair of runner-up finishes in 2002 and ’03.
Machus has over 200 career wins and is committed to wrestle at Division 2 Notre Dame (Ohio). The 125-pounder is among eight seniors in the Vikings starting lineup who finally made it to the team state final in their last try. He said the team will not be content with just making the quarterfinals.
“We might be a little bit of an underdog, but we’re not going in there thinking we’re happy to make it,” Machus said. “We’re going to work as hard as we can and aim for the top. We’ve made it this far so we might as well keep going.”
BRONSON WRESTLING FAMILY
The Vikings feature just one pair of brothers on the team in Jake and Thomas Littlefield, but family ties run even deeper on Bronson’s roster.
Some have brothers or cousins who previously wrestled for the Vikings at Kellogg Arena. That includes 160-pound senior Dan Erwin, whose older brother Sam helped Bronson get to Battle Creek twice before graduating in 2011. There’s more on the way, as younger brother David is an eighth grade wrestler at Bronson.
Their father is Jim Erwin, a local pastor who said he wasn’t aware of Bronson’s tradition in wrestling before his family moved to the area.
“Wrestling struck a cord with Bronson for whatever reason,” he said. “When we moved to Branch County, we happened to move into the Bronson district. We found out after the fact that it has a powerful tradition, and wrestling kind of fits the community, it has for years. In a good sense, not a negative way. People around here are very supportive and used to good programs and wrestling being a powerful program within the school system.”
For head coach Al Sosinski, having family legacies within the program is always a welcome sight.
“The family names that keep showing up. We get the alumni, guys that have graduated to come in, because they have cousins or nephews or whatever relatives on the team, and even if they don’t, they’re coming in and helping out,” Sosinski said. “They try to give back to the program because it meant so much to them. And for it to keep going, it needs that, it needs guys like that coming in and telling their story. I can tell the stories, but it’s a lot different to see the actual body come in and work with you right down on the mat and help the kids out.”
THE FATHER FIGURE
There are many factors into the success of the Bronson wrestling program, but the biggest is the man leading the program.
Sosinski is now in his 30th season as the head coach at Bronson. He was recently named regional coach of the year after helping the program get back to Battle Creek for the first time in four years.
“This is a goal we’ve all had. Especially for coach Sosinski, almost more than anyone else,” Machus said. “We really wanted coach Sosinski to get back and make it back to Kellogg.”
As a father of multiple Bronson wrestlers, Jim Erwin said he has the utmost faith in Sosinski as a leader of young men.
“Al is top of the line. He’s a great guy. He’s got a real heart for the kids,” Erwin said. “He’s humble and patient with the kids, but he’s firm. He’s a good combination of qualities that makes for a good coach.”
Coldwater native Dan Severn knows a thing or two about good coaching. An Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Hall of Fame member who only recently retired from mixed martial arts at the age of 54, ”The Beast” has an impressive resume that also includes All-American honors as a wrestler at Arizona State University.
When Severn’s son David was contimplating transfering high schools before his senior year in 2009, Bronson seemed like an ideal fit. David went on to help Bronson reach the team state finals before winning an individual state championship at 215 pounds.
“A lot of it is that family atmosphere,” Dan Severn said. “There’s a lot of returning alums that come back here to help out. And you don’t see that at too many programs. Well, I should say you see that at the better programs… (Sosinski) always has been approachable. Some people talk a good game while there’s others who lead by example. Al does both. He lets them know the door’s open if they have problems. He will go the extra mile. He looks at what’s good for an individual and what’s good for a team.”
Severn added that the Bronson wrestling family extends well beyond the walls of the purple and gold wrestling room.
“Bronson has always been a very strong community,” he said, “and when you see at the state meet and league meets, the whole town turns out in support of their teams.”
A TOWN AND ITS TEAM
Of the 32 teams at Kellogg Arena on Friday, Bronson will have the advantage of traveling the shortest distance.
But it doesn’t matter if the state quarterfinal is 50 miles or 200 miles away — the Vikings faithful will turn out in full force.
“It’s contagious,” Sosinski said. “Somebody comes in, it doesn’t matter where you go, the bank, gas station, the stores — they’re all talking about Bronson wrestling. ‘They’re back! Missed it for three years now and they’re back.’ It’s like an overdue date you keep putting off, and now it’s etched in stone and we’re there and they can’t wait to go back feel that excitement. The sea of purple up there, we always fill our section with the best fans in the state.”
Added Machus: “We have a huge fan base, the whole town of Bronson is always there in the crowd. It’s awesome knowing we could do it all for them.”