The collaborative effort between local high school football and wrestling coaches also gets at the heart of a years-long, underlying effort. That is, to combat youths specializing in one sport and dropping all others.
“We’ve fought specialization even before the kids get to our high school coaches,” said Mark Fisher, athletic director of Springfield Public Schools. “I’ve never thought that was a good thing. I tell parents, ‘Hey, let kids be kids.’ Whichever sports their kid is in as a fifth- or sixth-grader, that may change as they get older.”
Not afraid to speak up about this topic is Nixa wrestling coach Dustin Martin, whose team includes 6-foot-2, 152-pound starter Gunner Harris, who probably would have been a bench-warmer on the basketball team.
“This is such a predominately basketball area, but a lot of people get the impression we’re trying to make it a wrestling area,” in just discussing this topic, Martin said. “I don’t think it has to be a wrestling area. Actually, I think it’d be foolish to try to make it the wrestling corner of the state.”
But coaches need to continue to urge athletes to try other sports, including wrestling, Martin said.
Among the local football coaches who urge teens to try multiple sports — and advocates his players join the wrestling team — is Glendale’s Tyler Overstreet, who points to his time as an assistant for football coach Doug Smith at Rogersville.
Rogersville won a state championship in 2011, doing so with Joe Zimmer at running back and linebacker. Zimmer was an all-state football player and twice a state champion wrestler. He is attending the University of Nebraska on a wrestling scholarship.
“I just think going out for any sport, it makes them more competitive and instills more values,” Overstreet said. “Wrestling is a great example of that. If they got out and lose, they can’t blame anyone but themselves. It’s very humbling and teaches them who they are.”
Kickapoo wrestling coach Bill Buckley, now in his 10th season and who also is an assistant football coach, says: “I think (wrestling’s) proven that wrestlers become better football players. For the kids, it’s tough to get that competition in the weight room.”