HURLEY, S.D. (KSFY) - Wrestling is known as the world’s oldest sport, but at Viborg-Hurley it is the first year the school has been able to have a team.
“There’s guys that we have out for football that don’t do anything in the winter, and I thought maybe if we had wrestling that would be something good for them,” head coach Camron Groenke said.
Which means this is also a first for all the school’s grapplers ready to hit the mat. It doesn’t end there, though.
It is not only Groenke’s first year as a head wrestling coach, but it is also the first time he has ever coached wrestling -- ever. He never played the sport himself, which means he never put on headgear, never told anyone to shoot for the leg, never has even been on a wrestling mat until this new opportunity came about.
“No, I have never wrestled before,” Groenke laughed.
That’s right, a head wrestling coach with zero experience.
“Our principal Corey Jenson, he is a long time wrestling coach, so I went into his office and asked him why we didn’t have it because there’s a lot of boys that don’t do basketball, and I thought that’s a really good opportunity for those boy’s and that kind of turned into me being the head coach,” said Groenke.
So Groenke is becoming a student of the sport while also teaching his wrestlers.
“I just made sure that I did a lot of homework beforehand so I can answer as many as questions as possible. But sometimes I gotta be honest with the kids and say 'I don’t really know, I’ll look that up and let you know,'” said Groenke.
“It’s kind of crazy, there’s a lot more to it than I thought. Now it's just a whirlwind, I go home and you know I film the boys, and I watch the film, and I’ve been doing all this different research and looking up all these things, and teaching myself like I teach these boys, and it’s kind of cool to see where we’ve got. They’re progressing a lot more than I’ve anticipated, so that’s kind of awesome but it’s overwhelming too,” he added.
Senior Hayden Werdel is one of the Cougars that has the most experience. He wrestled pee-wee league through the town, but that was eight years ago.
He said he quit because there was no chance for him to wrestle beyond elementary school, unless he transferred to another school district.
“It was pretty rough (to start the season), I understood some things like the half nelson, but that was about it. A lot of kids that don’t go out for football or are not good for basketball or are too short, this is the sport for them it feels good it makes them feel good that they can do something now too,” said Werdel.
So for the 16 other wrestlers on the roster and Coach Groenke, wrestling is brand new.
“We really have no one with a lot of experience wrestling, everybody for the most part here is new, brand new and haven’t done it before so that’s cool to be a part of,” said Groenke.
“I’d say it’s going better than I thought it would, people are really getting into the sport, they’re really taking in the task and the difficulty of the sport,” said junior Ethan Engen.
This season the Cougars are competing at the junior varsity level. But come January, some of these first timers will be wrestling varsity.
“There’s a lot of techniques and stuff that you got to learn, and we’ve got some really hard practices but our coach is really great, and I love that he is helping us out,” said Engen.
“It’s JV but like I told the kids, these guys even though they are JV most of these guys have probably been wrestling since pee-wee age, so to have that success already has been really awesome to see that,” said Groenke.
So this year it is not just about what the score sheet says for the Cougars, but to pin wrestling on the map in the small town of Hurley.
“I think the main goal for me is to give these kids an opportunity to do something that they haven’t had the opportunity to do. We’re going to lose, but it’s about looking back at the match you lost and figuring out how to improve, how to get better, and take it from there. It’s not necessarily about this year but the future of the program,” said Groenke.
Like any future plan, it begins by taking a first step.
“I tell these kids, you are the first ever to be a part of the Viborg-Hurley wrestling team, and you’re starting a staple,” said Groenke.
Viborg-Hurley will participate in their first varsity match on Jan. 5 at Winside, Nebraska, where Coach Groenke did his student teaching and where he said the idea of building a wrestling program came about.