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Caleb Nelson: Heitkamp looks back on wrestling season

ADRIAN — I returned home Sunday afternoon from a busy but enjoyable weekend of covering the state wrestling tournament in St. Paul. There were so many success stories produced by local wrestlers there that it was almost mind boggling.

There were 28 state qualifiers from the Daily Globe coverage area. Of those wrestlers, 15 remained alive entering Saturday’s portion of the tournament. Thirteen received medals. Of those, there were four champions, two runners-up, three thirds, two fourths and two fifths. That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.

I truly enjoy every sport I cover but I enjoy wrestling for the individual competitive spirit that it teaches. Especially in a tough tournament setting, it’s just you and your opponent on the mat.

My love for wrestling also may stem from some of the medical obstacles I’ve went through. I frankly don’t see myself as handicapped but being born with Spina Bifida has certainly given me some near falls of my own to fend off in life. Maybe that’s why I like wrestling so much.

When your back is on the mat and you have to get out, what are you going to do? You have to find what is inside of you and lean on that to reverse your circumstances, or at least your attitude.

Heitkamp reflects on exciting state wrestling tournament

I walked through the first row of seating at the Xcel Energy Center last Friday during state wrestling action and upon seeing Bruce Heitkamp I remembered what people have told me about his love and interest for wrestling.

An Adrian native and his town’s city administrator, Heitkamp is known around wrestling circles as the brains and workhorse behind Class AA’s individual rankings released regularly by The Guillotine, a very credible publication devoted to wrestling in Minnesota. I decided to give Heitkamp a call on Monday to talk the sport we both enjoy.

Heitkamp grew up in the youth and high school wrestling programs at Adrian before heading off to college at then-Southwest State University in Marshall. He decided against walking on to the Mustangs’ wrestling team but assisted their coach, Mike Sterner, with recruiting duties instead.

“I helped him recruit. Coach Sterner had a difficult time talking with kids over the phone because of a hearing disability he has,” Heitkamp said. “I came on and worked with him trying to recruit athletes to come to SMSU. That just kind of fostered my love for this sport.”

About a decade ago — by then, back in his hometown — Heitkamp saw an advertisement in The Guillotine seeking a ratings editor. He was interested and contacted owner Jeff Beshy. The rest is history, and it has been an enjoyable ride, he said.

“I replied back (to Jeff) and he said he’d be willing to work with me. From there, we had a short discussion on the in’s and out’s,” Heitkamp said. “He lets his ratings editors use a process they want to use. If they start hearing too much disagreement then he may reach out, but he has been great allowing us the freedom to do our jobs.”

The process Heitkamp prefers involves building an electronic spreadsheet before the season begins with names of all of Class AA’s wrestlers in it. He keeps pertinent results and information on each wrestler in that spreadsheet and then keeps a close eye on results turned into The Guillotine’s website once the season begins. He also communicates with coaches where applicable to aid in the process.

Once a season begins, Heitkamp whittles all of the wrestlers down to a list of about 20 per weight class to initially focus on, but things can change from week to week and the list fluctuates often from November to February.

When it comes tournament time, Heitkamp gets to see how he’s done.

“It’s exciting from the standpoint that I tell friends that this is the ultimate fantasy football for me. I don’t know a lot of the kids’ faces,” Heitkamp said. “I would say that for the majority of the kids I’ve never seen them wrestle.

“The state tournament was fun for me because there were about 10 athletes who placed that I never had in my last ratings and there were two who I can honestly say weren’t on my radar,” he added. “That’s always a fun thing, that there’s a kid out there that comes out and places from under the radar, so to speak.”

Looking back on this season, nine of Heitkamp’s 14 top-ranked wrestlers in Class AA were championship winners Saturday evening. That’s not a bad percentage at all.

“Basically all that means is that the results are holding true throughout the year that these dominating kids are doing dominant things at the state tournament,” Heitkamp said. “I think the athletes (at state) served us well here in southwest Minnesota.”

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson is the Daily Globe sports writer. He hails from southwest Iowa and served as sports editor at the Audubon County Advocate Journal there for 2 ½ years before moving to Worthington in October 2013. Caleb trys to enjoy life and everybody that he meets. He enjoys music, playing guitar and drums, and is an avid sports fan. 
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