Tom Beeson played football and wrestled at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School.
I ventured to the state wrestling tournament held at Englewood High School when my classmate Beeson captured the heavyweight title.
Regional state qualifying tournaments will be held Feb. 14-16 and large crowds will gather at the Pepsi Center for the Colorado High School Activities Association’s State Wrestling Championships on Feb. 21-23.
There have been some changes in the sport over the years but the basic sport of wrestling is the same.
“Wrestling is wrestling,” said former Ponderosa wrestling coach Tim Ottmann. “It’s the oldest sport in the world so I don’t think a whole lot of technical, practice drills or skills have change that much. The basics are still what you need to get you where you want to be along with being in shape and being strong. I don’t see a lot of techniques differences.”
“It is basically the same sport,” he said.
I also asked Columbine wrestling coach Ray Barron to join the State of Wrestling discussion and between Beeson, Ottmann and Barron I got opinions from three coaches whose names dot the CHSAA wrestling record book.
Beeson went from Lincoln to play football and wrestle and won a Division II national title at Western State. He was a head wrestling coach for 35 years, including 29 seasons at Pomona as the school’s first wrestling coach. The 2019 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Hall of Fame inductee is listed among the state’s top coaches with 15 state individual champions and two state titles.
Ottmann is now the Ponderosa principal after coaching wrestling for 18 years and serving as the school’s athletic director for nine years. The Mustangs won eight state titles under Ottmann and he coached 13 individual state champions at Pondo. He coached for seven seasons at Burges, Texas.
Barron has been at Columbine for five seasons after leaving Heritage after a 33-year stint. He also coached in Worland, Wyoming and Fort Lupton in his 44-year coaching and teaching career which is the most for coaches in Colorado. He has won over 400 dual meets in his career for a .742 winning percentage, which ranks behind Ottmann’s top record of .923 percent (170-22).
All three of the wrestling icons noted there have been a few changes in the sport but not much that includes basic wrestling skills.
Athletes have started wrestling at younger ages, and feeder youth programs are important to the success of high school teams. And wrestling has joined other sports in becoming a year-round activity.
“The kids are getting so much better so much younger,” said Ottmann. “The youth programs are really preparing kids for high school. You pretty much have to have four or five years under your belt going into high school to have a chance. It also takes a little bit more year-round than back in the day. You really don’t feel like you can take much of a break, you go from high school to freestyle to summer camp.”
Wrestlers with experience entering a program make a difference.
“You have to have that interest,” said Beeson. “Coaches are only as good as the athletes who walk in the door. I know that the years I had good athletes I was a great coach. The years when I had just young kids, I was mediocre.”
Rules modifications and changes regarding illegal holds, health and weight management is another change that has made the sport safer.
Recalling those days eating lunch around wrestlers at Lincoln, I was amazed by the wrestlers either not eating much or pigging out prior to weigh-in sessions, but apparently those situations are not seen as much.
And, girls wrestling could become a Colorado sanctioned sport if the pilot program gains CHSAA approval in April.
“The days are over when girls have to be wrestling boys,” said Ottmann. “It’s time for girls to wrestle girls.”
After the weekend regionals, the wrestlers who qualify for state will be at the Pepsi Center for the all classification state tournament.
“The Pepsi Center is an amazing experience,” said Barron. “It is a 10-ring circus. There is always something going on as you look across the mats on the floor. To watch these phenomenal athletes no matter the class is an experience you have to see to believe. It is the funnest state meet there is to watch.”
Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303-566-4083.
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