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Springfield wrestling program gets a new start

Springfield breaks away from co-op with Redwood Valley

Submitted photo Above are some of the members of the 2019 Springfield wrestling team, which is breaking away from its co-op with Redwood Valley and hosting it’s own program this year. Front row (l-r): Easton Johnson, Mitchell Streich, Ashton Danielson, Mason Rummel. Back row (l-r): Clinician Brady Schneeberger, Sam Rummel, Ashtin Johnson, Owen Bertram, Joseph Anderson, Andrew Manko.

SPRINGFIELD — As a longtime wrestling coach, Springfield’s Todd Bertram had a vision one day of breaking away from the co-operatives that Springfield had been paired with and starting a program of its own.

So Bertram looked at the wrestling numbers at the younger levels and started a plan in order to keep the school and the potential wrestling program running without another school in a co-op program.

Bertram saw the numbers would work, and beginning this winter, Springfield will have its own wrestling program for the first time since 1987.

Springfield was in a cooperative with Redwood Valley and Cedar Mountain since 2014-15 as Redwood/River Valley. Prior to that, Springfield was with Sleepy Eye and that co-op was called River Valley.

Now, Springfield has about 20 student-athletes out for the sport and the numbers are enough to get the program up and running once again in the community.

Submitted photo Here is a yearbook photo of the first Springfield wrestling team from 1967. Springfield will have its own wrestling team this year for the first time since 1987.

“We started talking about it two years ago, and it was always an idea that if our numbers got better, we’d like to have our own wrestling team,” Bertram said. “We started seeing an uptick, which to be honest is a little bit surprising in a co-op. You just hope to maintain and just kind of hang in there, but to have our numbers go up, we started thinking that we had a real chance to go back on our own.”

Bertram will coach the program this year along with assistant coach Luke Amsden. Bertram joined the Springfield coaching staff in 1992 as an assistant. He was named the head coach in 1996 and he was also an assistant when Jeff Briard coached the program. He was an assistant with the Redwood/River Valley program as well.

Bertram talked to those in Springfield about the possibility of having a program on its own and once the kids involved in wrestling from Springfield found out, they too got involved and excitement continued to grow.

“We appreciated that opportunity to be in that co-op with Redwood Falls, but you want to have your own team,” Bertram said. “The kids asked about it because they wanted to have their own team and not to have to travel a half hour to practice. The more the kids started to talk about it, the more they started to recruit more kids out for it and it just started to snowball a bit.”

As of now, there are 18 wrestlers from Springfield that are coming back and should be a part of the program. Bertram said that Redwood Valley on its own will have about 25 wrestlers out. He also said that there are a few more potential athletes from Springfield that may come out, so that number could grow to the 20s. Varsity wrestling has 14 different weight classes, so many of the athletes who decide to go out will have an opportunity to wrestle for the varsity program right away.

“We think we’ll have a couple of kids come out that didn’t before because of travel,” Bertram said. “That’s not counting any seventh-graders, so we’ll see what that class brings in. We would expect to be in the low 20s when we start out this year.”

The youth program is doing well in Springfield and Bertram is hoping that they can maintain similar numbers as the athletes get older.

“We’ve had a pretty active youth wrestling club for a while, we’ve had the same coach [Bill Krueger] and he’s a former River Valley wrestler and I think that stability has helped us,” Bertram said. “Luke Amsden is back on staff, and he’ll do a little bit more with the youth as well. We saw our biggest numbers out in a long time last year, we had over 50 kids out and our biggest group is that second, third and fourth-grade group. We don’t have a lot in the fifth and sixth grade, but we’re optimistic that we can build that part up as well.”

Bertram said that there has been a lot of support from people all over the community for the new program.

“We’re super excited,” Bertram said. “We went back and looked and it was 1987 that Springfield had their own wrestling team. Ever since I started, we’ve been a part of some really successful co-ops. We’ve had a ton of wrestlers, 63 state tournament wrestlers and four state champions and 26 state placers. It’s not that we didn’t have success in those co-ops, but to have your own team and own mascot. What’s really been a surprise to us is the extra community support you get when it’s just you. We’ve had cookouts and special events and we’ve had people not involved with wrestling stop out and there’s so much pride in that.”

The big question

In an era where smaller wrestling programs are co-oping with other programs, Springfield is the rare school that is breaking away from a co-op and going out on its own.

The numbers now look good. But the school board and Bertram both know that things can change down the road. As for now, they’re all trying to get as many people involved with the program as possible and get the younger kids exposed to the sport.

“It’s definitely a group effort, I don’t know if there’s one part that’s more important than the others, you’ve got parents and wrestlers, so what we’re trying to do is get as many people involved in as many ways as possible,” Bertram said. “Some of those things are group activities for the kids, some are group activities for the parents, that’s been a real success, especially on the youth end.

“But there’s obviously no guarantee, and that was a tough sell to our own school board,” Bertram said. “They wanted to know if we had enough in five years, in 10 years. We don’t have a great answer for that, but we’d rather give our kids the opportunity, even if that means we won’t be filling a full team, than to have to put them on the road and travel. We’re hopeful that this is going to be long term. But I think if numbers begin to dip, we’re going to be able to provide more opportunities for our kids regardless. It’s a good thing for us to have our own program.”

Bertram said that there has been a movement at the high school level to reduce the number of weight classes at the varsity level. There are 14 weight classes in high school wrestling, but eliminating some of those weight classes will definitely have an impact for the smaller schools, such as Springfield.

“The timing is perfect for us, 14 weights is tough to fill,” Bertram said. “It’s not just small school, right now we can wrestle 12 weights and that makes it a lot easier, you don’t need to have as many kids or cover as many classes.”

The fact that there are so many weight classes has been challenging to the smaller programs. Programs have been forced to co-op and for the winter months in Minnesota, that isn’t always ideal for daily practices when teams have to travel 30 minutes or more so that everyone can practice together in one place.

“I think we’ve been our own worst enemy somewhat,” Bertram said. “Over the last few years, probably 20 years, we’ve expanded from 12 to 13 to 14 weights and I think we’ve reached too far. We did that with the idea of offering more opportunities for kids of different sizes. But what we’ve ended up doing is making the teams that have more kids have the advantage, because they can cover all 14 classes. Teams that have less kids can’t compete, so they co-op.”

Bertram said that the program has a lot of younger athletes out for the program this year. As of now, it appears there will be two seniors and four juniors in the program.

Bertram knows that the team will probably struggle initially as many in the program are wrestling varsity for the first time. He also knows that there will be some individual success and he’s looking forward to building the program and keeping it running for a long time.

“It’s definitely easier to have our own kids,” Bertram said. “We’ve made some good connections with kids from the other schools. Hopefully it’s a little easier to get the kids to come out, we’re really excited for the opportunity to do this. We haven’t had a team since 1987 so you don’t want to go out there and flop, but we’re pretty confident that we have some good kids and that’s not going to happen.”

Springfield wrestling facts

• 1966-67 was the first season (18 wrestlers out)

• 1987-88 was the first co-op, with Cedar Mountain (39 total kids) and the following year Sleepy Eye was added.

• 2014-15 a new co-op was created with Springfield, Cedar Mountain and Redwood Valley (Springfield had 12 kids out)

• 2018-19 that co-op is dissolved and Springfield is back on its own.

• Springfield had 21 years of just Springfield and 32 years of being in a co-op

• In 1983, Al Plotz was the first Springfield wrestler to make it to the state tournament. There have been 39 other Springfield wrestlers qualify for state and four state champions came from Springfield High School.

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