Meet the Happels, arguably Iowa’s most dominant wrestling family

Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen

Meet the Happels, arguably Iowa’s most dominant wrestling family


Meet the Happels, arguably Iowa’s most dominant wrestling family


LISBON, Iowa — When Lisbon wrestlers win individual state championships, they are memorialized on the walls here inside the practice room in the form of a fathead. There are 32 pictures in all, and those wrestlers have combined to win 59 titles.

Cael Happel is up there. The junior is a two-time Class 1A state champion. A third is in sight this week at the state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Cael looks up at the walls every day and sees several familiar faces.

“Every time I do a pull-up, I’ll look my dad in the eye,” he says. “Then I’ll get down and do some crunches and I’ll look my older brother in the eye from across the room.”

Dean Happel won three state titles for Lisbon in the 1980s. Older brother Carter, now a Hawkeye wrestler, won four from 2013-16. Add in Cael’s two, and that’s nine combined individual state champions for the Happel clan.

More could be coming, too.

In Iowa, names become famous because of their results on the mat. It is not uncommon to see brothers, sons and fathers, and even cousins and uncles littered throughout the state wrestling history books.

The Weathermans (Tanner, Brock, Trent), Morningstars (Scott, Ryan) and Ballwegs (Jake, Mark, Matt) all won seven state titles. The Reiters from Don Bosco won nine thanks to Mack and Bart each winning four. Lisbon’s Light brothers (Shane, Ike, Zach) also won nine, and cousin Vance won two as well. The Gibbons (Jim, Tim, Joe, Jeff) and Knights (Dan, Jeff, Steve, along with Evan and Colby, Steve’s kids) each won 10.

The Happel clan could lap them all. If Cael matches Carter’s four, that’s 11. There’s also middle brother Quincy, who’s a freshman and Lisbon’s starting 113-pounder. Two more are coming, too — Cade and Kyler are in fifth and fourth grade, respectively.

“If we keep the pace we’re on, we’ll probably go down as the best family in history to ever do it,” Cael says. “But I don’t know. I might not win another state title, or we might not win another one. So we have to take them as they come. They’re blessings, truly.”

Between Dean, Carter and Cael, the Happel family enters this week with a 36-match winning streak at the traditional state wrestling tournament. Cael, possessing a 46-0 record and the No. 1 ranking, is the prohibitive favorite at 132 pounds. Quincy, at 40-7 overall, will contend at 113.

The family success has made the Happel name well known in wrestling circles. It’s also created expectation and motivation. Back in the practice room, a small plaque showcases the program’s all-time win leaders. Carter is on top, at 209. Cael says he’ll pass that next year — he’s at 157 now.

Nearby, Quincy looks on.

“It’d be nice to keep the family rolling,” Quincy says. “My mom and dad have told me many times that my career is my career and not theirs, but I wouldn’t want to be known as the kid that ended it.

“I’d love to keep it going and keep it rolling for many years to come.”


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