Wrestlers relish ‘their next opportunity to compete’ at Stilwell Junior High
When students at West Des Moines Community Schools enter eighth grade, they have the opportunity to wrestle at the school level. It’s an exciting time for these student-athletes as they begin their wrestling careers, memorized by the thought of someday competing at the Iowa high school state wrestling tournament for Valley High School.
At Stilwell Junior High, it starts with coaches Tony Wieland and Brady Johnson and the environment they aim to establish in jump-starting these possibilities.
“We want to create an opportunity and atmosphere where kids feel like they can come into something new, feel supported, have fun, and work hard,” Wieland said. “We try to create a culture where anyone who is interested in wrestling, they are welcome to come out. Everyone is invited.”
Wieland, who also serves as a school counselor at Valley High School, is no slouch to the sport. He was a freshman All-American at 190 pounds in 1996 at the University of Northern Iowa and is also a two-time Iowa high school state champion, winning the title at 189 pounds in 1994 and 1995. As a prep at Cedar Falls High School, Wieland went 152-10-1.
After graduating from UNI in 2000, Wieland coached junior-high wrestling at Dallas Center-Grimes. He also helped with DC-G and Des Moines Roosevelt’s varsity teams, but later joined Valley wrestling head coach Travis Young’s varsity staff in 2003. Wieland was with the Valley program for 10 years until joining Johnson at Stilwell.
He complimented how fun it’s been to work alongside Johnson — Stilwell’s school counselor — over the last four years. And because of his daily interactions with Stilwell students, Wieland credits Johnson as the program’s “recruiter” of sorts.
“We create the culture of caring and serving because we both have hearts that want to do that,” Wieland explained. “We have a passion for the sport, knowledge to share, and we really enjoy doing what we do.”
That passion is also easily seen in the student-athletes on this year’s Stilwell team, which Wieland said is primarily filled with wrestling newbies who possess lots of energy. Add that, plus the willingness to learn and work hard, has made maturation possible now and in recent years.
“As we continue to drill and work hard through a season, we’re going to keep seeing development happen,” Wieland said of his wrestlers. “I think when kids experience that, they get really excited about the sport. Our goal as coaches is: We want to create the environment where kids are safe and their having fun, but we also want to create an environment where they are interested in going out (for wrestling) the following year, to give them an opportunity to try it again.”
Alex Dreier, assistant principal at Stilwell, said he enjoys how Wieland and Johnson support their student-athletes on and off the mat.
“They are passionate about creating an atmosphere of support on the team, that will hopefully ignite an interest for the sport that carries on past Stilwell,” Dreier said.
And win or lose, Wieland and Johnson still get that drive to learn and improve in return from their student-athletes.
“They’re doing something a lot of people aren’t willing to do,” Wieland said of his wrestlers. “When they come off the mat, we shake their hand, we tell them ‘good job,’ and we’ll come back with things we can work on in practice to help the next time out.
“That’s what gets them excited for their next opportunity to compete.”