WORTHINGTON -- Too many years have passed to allow Jason Reitmeier to compete now in an actual wrestling match, but time has not diminished his heroic status in the minds of longtime Worthington area fans.
Reitmeier, a native of Bigelow, was a two-time state prep champion before graduating from Worthington High School in 1992, and his exploits are fondly remembered. Now in his 14th year as head coach of the Augustana Vikings, he plans to do what he normally does this time of year -- send a few of his wrestlers to the Worthington Open at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
The 2017 Open will get under way Saturday, with mats being used both at the college gymnasium and at the adjacent Worthington Area YMCA. Somewhere between 120 and 160 college wrestlers will compete, according to veteran Minnesota West head coach Bob Purcell.
Action begins at 9 a.m. and goes continuously until about 5 p.m.
Freshmen, sophomores and non-starters at four-year schools compete annually at the Open, and also wrestlers who are unattached. Both Purcell and Reitmeier say the experience they receive is invaluable.
“Especially for our junior college kids,” said Purcell. “They come in and beat some of those good wrestlers, they might get a scholarship opportunity for one of those things.”
“It’s a great tournament,” agreed Reitmeier in a phone conversation with the Daily Globe. “You get to see a wide variety.”
Reitmeier has achieved a notable measure of success at Augustana, coaching four individual national champions while having at least one wrestler earn All-American status in 12 seasons. His career record is 153-69.
The former WHS star’s post-high school odyssey began at the University of Nebraska, where he was redshirted one year and competed two years. He then transferred from the Division I school to Augustana for the remaining two years of his eligibility. He posted an outstanding 36-4 record for the Vikings in 1995-96, which included the NCC 134-pound championship and third place at the nationals. He went 30-3 the next season, and at 142 pounds became the first Augustana wrestler in 12 years to win a national title.
This week, Reitmeier recalled his wrestling years at Nebraska and Augustana. He decided to transfer to the Sioux Falls, S.D., college, he said, because it afforded him a fresh start.
“I just needed the change of atmosphere, and the change of pace, a bit,” he said. “At the Division I level, wrestling gets to be a little bit like a job.”
Just as he was in high school, Reitmeier was determined in college to get the most out of his wrestling ability. Augustana, he said, helped him to re-focus his energies.
“I just thought I was going backward in my training,” he said, adding, “I don’t think (Nebraska) put too much pressure on me. Maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself … thinking too much instead of reacting.”
Reitmeier and his wife, Stacy -- a Worthington girl -- are the parents of a son, Wyatt, 14, and Josie, 10.
By midweek, Reitmeier was unsure yet whether he’d be able to make the trip to Worthington personally, but one thing is certain -- he’ll expect his competing wrestlers to give it their all.
“I notice I carry over a little bit from my wrestling years,” he said.
Many other colleges from throughout the region will send matmen to Worthington on Saturday, including Minnesota State University-Mankato, Morningside College, St. Cloud State, South Dakota State University, and two-year colleges Rochester and Itasca. It remains unclear how many, if any, Minnesota West wrestlers will compete. Those who might be able to compete, said Purcell, are still healing from injuries.
Even so, Purcell is looking forward to the tournament -- in part, because of the tremendous support the local college has received from the community of Worthington for putting on the event. Each year, volunteers are plentiful. Wrestling fans always look forward to seeing the best young college wrestlers from a wide area. And the support from the area business community has been outstanding as well.
“This community is just fantastic,” said Purcell, who notes that the Worthington Open has operated successfully for 27 years.
“It’s a fantastic tournament for our community. For anybody who loves wrestling, it’s a great opportunity to see outstanding young wrestlers,” he said.