By Kristina Mullis
Walk into a Nile C. Kinnick High School wrestling team practice, and you will feel the floor shake under your feet. You will hear the rumble of about 25 wrestlers dropping to the floor, quickly jumping back to their feet and running in circles around the mats.
The fast-paced rhythm and non-stop movement mimic a team preparing to fight – and that is the way Kinnick wrestling Head Coach Gary Wilson and Assistant Coach Dan Joley like it. In a way, they are preparing their wrestlers not just for competition but for life, also.
“This is life,” Joley said. “You wake up and go to battle.”
Tradition of Excellence
This Red Devils team knows a thing or two about battling and winning. Fielding a varsity wrestling team in 1966, the Kinnick team has a long history of success. With three consecutive Japan District championships from 2013 to 2015, 23 Kanto League championships and numerous team dual and invitational championships, the Red Devils have secured a long-standing tradition of excellence.
Since 2012, Kinnick has dominated the local and regional competitions at both the team and individual levels by regularly placing in the top two positions as a team and boasting a number of individual champions. During the wrestling season from November through February, the team participates in a number of team duals, invitationals and tournaments – the biggest tournament of the season being the Far East Championships. Currently, the Far East contains 15 schools from around the Pacific region. Kinnick wrestling has won a total of nine individual and dual Far East tournaments, including consecutive dual championships in 2014 and 2015. Since 1977, Kinnick wrestlers have been named individual Far East Champions a total of 63 times.
Sitting at 7-1 in team duals this season at time of publication, the team continues to add to their success. This year’s Far East Championships are set for late February. Until then, the Red Devils have a number of remaining tournaments, including hosting the Japan Finals at Kinnick High School starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Philosophy of Success
Coach Wilson has coached the team since 2009, and he said the tradition of excellence is a leading motivation for the team’s continued success.
“Having success at this level keeps success coming,” Wilson said. “It creates an atmosphere of wanting to carry on that tradition. We feel like we owe it to the incredible alumni and former coaches to show our best products every time.”
That tradition, Wilson said, is coupled with the unique personality of each individual wrestler. He explained that wrestling is both a team sport and an individual one, so if wrestlers do not work hard for themselves, they will not be successful – creating an atmosphere of self-motivated wrestlers.
In addition to Wilson’s guidance, Assistant Coach Dan Joley adds a depth of wrestling coaching to the Red Devils team. He has coached at Kinnick for five of his 17 total years as a wrestling coach and wrestled himself starting from a young age.
Both coaches are teachers at Kinnick, with Wilson teaching math and Joley social studies. In the fall, the coaches will switch roles and also coach the Kinnick High School football team. It’s from the football team where most students are recruited for the wrestling team, although many wrestlers participate in a variety of sports throughout the year.
“It’s a nice transition from football to wrestling,” Joley said. “Football players have a similar mentality that makes them successful in wrestling, and there is a dedication to the sport that carries over well from football.”
Wrestling team practices are each weekday during the season for an hour and half after school in the Hawk’s Nest. Both coaches favor short but intense workouts that keep the wrestlers moving. Competitions fall on the weekends and sometimes will require “wrestle-offs” to determine the one wrestler to represent each of the 14 weight classes. Wrestle-offs occur weekly, opening the possibility of different wrestlers representing weight classes at each weekend event.
Wilson said that while piecing together a team that wins can sometimes be difficult due to PCS moves, injuries, and other issues, this year’s team has a number of advantages.
“We have a lot of very experienced kids on the team this year,” Wilson said. “Many of them are returning champions, including Far East champions.”
Winning may seem like second nature to many of the wrestlers, but Wilson and Joley said some of their best memories are when they have gone in as the underdog and won – especially against their rival, St. Mary’s International School from Tokyo.
“It’s great just watching the kids in individual matches and forgetting about the scores,” Wilson said. “Especially when someone who has struggled to beat an opponent multiple times but comes back to win or winning against someone they have not won against before.”
While both coaches said they enjoy watching the wrestlers win, the real satisfaction they get from coaching goes deeper than that.
“A lot of kids who haven’t wrestled before become great wrestlers,” Joley said. “Seeing their dedication to the sport and the happiness on their faces makes it worthwhile.”
Lessons of Wrestling and Life
Dedication and success are words that drive the individual wrestlers, too.
“I like winning and slamming people,” Kinnick senior Dwayne Lyon, who wrestles at the 180 pound weight class, said. “There’s nothing like being in the moment for a full six-minute match.”
While recruited from the football team, Lyon said he started wrestling in high school. A past individual Far East champion, Lyon is now considering his options to possibly continue wrestling in college. Lyon said his coaches are a major source of support and have influenced him heavily in his wrestling career.
“I only have two things – my name and my worth,” Lyon said. “My coaches have always been supportive and help me work toward all of my goals.”
Fellow senior and teammate Chon Dareing agreed, saying his coaches continue to motivate him to be the best he can be.
Dareing, wrestling at the 115 pound weight class, said that after the weeknight practices he will typically run about 2.5 miles to keep in shape. Recruited from the football team, Dareing also participates in a number of school organizations and soccer. Wrestling, he said, has been something special to him.
“Wrestling gives you a sense of pride,” Dareing said. “It’s great to see your hard work pay off.”
Dareing credits his coaches with more than just wrestling tips and strategies – they’ve taught him invaluable life lessons, too.
“They’ve taught me not to give up on anything – in wrestling and in life,” Dareing said. “I now walk with my head up, and I have more confidence. I think they’re very much a big part of me becoming a man.”