The History of the Program
Created: 1/23/12 Revisions: Ongoing
As a background for those of you who do not know, the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services (MYAS) is a nonprofit organization that coordinates youth sporting events in wrestling, basketball, baseball and swimming.
I (Jeremy Innes) started working at the MYAS in February of 2002. That September, Dan Klinkhammer, Executive Director, told me that the MYAS was going to start a wrestling program and he wanted me to head it up. I reminded him that I was a basketball player growing up. He told me he was aware of that and still chose me for the task. Being the new guy, I was excited to have the responsibility but was also nervous as I was not familiar with the world of youth wrestling.
The rest of this article is a year-by-year snapshot of the MYAS wrestling program. It is really amazing to me how the program has evolved. We have met some wonderful people and learned some valuable lessons along the way.
In February of 2003, we ran the AAU K-8 Folkstyle State Tournament at Mound-Westonka High School for approximately 180 wrestlers. (At that time, the MYAS was the Minnesota affiliate for the AAU.) I showed up with my crew of five fellow MYAS staff members and we handled registration. The Mound-Westonka group took it from there. Todd Munsterteiger (Mound-Westonka Varsity Coach) and Rod Stevens were instrumental in the event. They helped me along the way and with the exception of the small turnout, the tournament ran without a hitch. It was quite an eye opener for me. I learned a lot that year.
In 2004, the AAU K-8 Folkstyle State Tournament moved to Eagan High School and Dave Ashton was the lead person for the Eagan group. Dave was very creative, and was actually the person who created the original mat sign/number system that you currently see at the Gopher State Nationals. It was quite a group effort as there were people from Farmington and Lakeville that were involved. We decided the best way to draw more wrestlers was to establish some non-sanctioned qualifiers. The qualifiers consisted of about eight open tournaments from around the state and they handed out our entry packets to the first and second place finishers. That approach worked well as we drew 554 wrestlers. I was riding high. The best thing that came out of the Eagan tournament was Denise McCarney, the person who ran the brackets. She did an outstanding job and we couldn't have handled that many kids without her. 2004 also featured the first K-6 team tournament run by the MYAS; a total of 11 teams participated. The MYAS has run a K-6 team tournament every year since.
In 2005, the AAU K-8 Folkstyle State Tournament was back at Eagan High School. We added a few more qualifiers around the state and approximately 630 kids attended that year. We were happy that the participation numbers were increasing. It was obvious to everyone that the tournament had outgrown Eagan HS. We had some issue with overcrowding in the auxiliary gym – it was quite a mess. Eventually we were able to move some of the tables out into the main gym to alleviate some of the pressure in the auxiliary gym.
2006 was the year of big changes. The MYAS K-8 Gopher State Championships were held at Coon Rapids High School and an unbelievable 930 wrestlers participated. The tournament was no longer sanctioned with the AAU and was run solely as an MYAS event. The biggest benefit of this change was that we no longer required participants to pay the additional membership fees. Another benefit was that we had more freedom to run the event the way we wanted. Therefore, we decided to run the event by grade instead of age. This seemed to make sense to us as the qualifiers for the tournament were run by grade. We were really hitting our stride now. The qualifiers were getting increased participation as more and more people wanted to qualify for our event. I felt like I really learned a lot about youth wrestling. Mike Berdahl and Grant Chmilowski with Coon Rapids Youth Wrestling were our main contacts. We were very happy to be in a bigger facility. We felt the tournament found a good home and that the facility could handle the event for years to come. Boy were we wrong.
2007 was the year of bigger, but not necessarily better. The MYAS K-8 Gopher State Championships were back at Coon Rapids High School. Gopher State had reached a whole new level of popularity, as a whopping 1,234 wrestlers registered for the tournament that year. It was amazing how the registrations just kept rolling in. The Coon Rapids group and I knew things were going to be crowded but we had no idea what we were in store for. The morning of the tournament the people just kept coming and the facility was extremely overcrowded. The fire marshal came by at about 11:00am and was not happy. It was a good thing he didn't come a couple hours earlier as he probably would have shut the place down. Also, the snow storm the day before did not help things. They were able to get the parking lots plowed but they were not able to remove the snow and a lot of the parking spots were covered with piles of snow. It was a pretty long day, to say the least. The Coon Rapids crew worked their tails off, and they couldn't have been a better host. It was clear that more changes had to be made to accommodate the crowds. The biggest positive to come out of the tournament was that the level of competition definitely reached a whole new level. The biggest thing I struggled with that year was trusting in myself. I realized I needed to take charge in more situations.
In 2008, we decided to split up the tournament over two weekends. Monticello came on board to host one of the weekends and Coon Rapids hosted the other. The MYAS K-8 Gopher State Championships was now an open tournament as the qualifiers were eliminated. This was done so we could control the number of wrestlers participating in the event. Also, we wanted to reach out to more wrestlers from different states. We wanted the tournament to be more than a state tournament. There was a total of 840 wrestlers between the two locations, and I was blown away by the Monticello facility. The participation numbers took a hit as a result of the issues the tournament had the year before. We knew we had to work harder than ever to build it back to the level we wanted.
2009 & 2010
The entire 2009 and 2010 MYAS K-8 Gopher State Championships were held at Monticello High School. Each year had right around 1,000 wrestlers. The tournament continues to draw more and more talented wrestlers from Minnesota and beyond. Wrestlers from 10-12 different states attend annually and we have had athletes from as far away as California and Louisiana. Brian Schnappauf and the rest of the Monticello host group continue to blow me away with their energy and ideas. They have really taken ownership of the event and take a lot of pride in the experience they provide the participants. The big changes in 2009 were same day weigh-ins and new mat signs, which were greatly enhanced with pvc posts and flip charts that identified the bout numbers. The big changes in 2010 were adding a girls division, seeding the top 4-8 wrestlers in each bracket, and hiring an individual to assign the officials in effort to get the best possible officials on the mats. Also in 2010, the MYAS Wrestling Advisory Committee was formed. The committee has been a wonderful asset to the program and I am very grateful for their contributions.
In 2011 we went national. The name of the tournament was changed to the MYAS Gopher State Nationals. We made the change from Championships to Nationals for a couple of reasons. One was to clear up the confusion that it was strictly a state tournament. The tournament is more than a state tournament. Two, we wanted to take the tournament to the next level. We want to offer the youth wrestlers in Minnesota the opportunity to compete in a high quality, national level tournament in their backyard. I was a little hesitant in calling it a national tournament in fear that it would not live up to the billing. But I truly feel the tournament is living up to that billing and it is growing stronger and stronger every year. The big changes in 2011 were 10 full mats on the floor versus six the year before, full mats for grades 1-8, additional bleacher seating, a warm-up mat, coach passes and restricted areas in between the mats.
First Minnesota, then Wisconsin in 2013. Monticello HS once again hosted the Gopher State Nationals. We had the worst weather to deal with since we canceled the K-6 Team tournament in 2007. The whole region got hit hard with snow. Even with the bad weather, over 1000 wrestlers from 9 states attended. The biggest change is 2013 was the addition of the Badgerland Nationals Tournament in La Crosse, Wisconsin. There were 343 wrestlers that attended the inaugural tournament. We brought most of the Gopher State team to La Crosse for the tournament. The MYAS staff and the bracketing system/person were the same. Hosting the tournament was the UW La Crosse Wrestling Team and the Holman Youth Wrestling Club. Overall, we were very please with the event. Once people saw first-hand that the Badgerland tournament was just like the Gopher State tournament, they said they would be back next year with more kids from their clubs. As 2013 wrapped up, we began discussions to add the Hawkeye Nationals and have a three-event series with tournaments in MN, WI and IA.
Number 1 on our to-do-list for the 2013-14 season was to create the Midwest Wrestling Tour. We had events in MN and WI, we needed an event in IA to create the tour. As I began the process of finding a location for the Hawkeye Nationals, I started with high school facilities. I quickly learned that the high schools in Iowa did not have the facilities that we have here in Minnesota. There were a couple in Iowa that had a nice field house but nothing with the permanent seating like some of the facilities in Minnesota have. We were close to working with a college group just south of Des Monies but extensive construction to their gym didn't allow us to put anything together for this year. At that point, it was too late to get into any of the arenas. I was very disappointed in myself for not getting the Hawkeye Nationals off the ground. Gopher State and Badgerland went really well in 2014. The biggest enhancement for this year was the MWT Belt. We awarded a belt to the wrestlers who placed 1-6 at BOTH Badgerland and Gopher State. People loved the belt and it accomplished what we wanted it to do by getting wrestlers to attend all of the Midwest Wrestling Tour events instead of just the one that is closest to them.
Iowa here we come! Young Arena in Waterloo will hold the first Hawkeye Nationals on Dec 6 & 7, 2014. The Waterloo CVB and the Young Arena staff have been great to work with. They have taken very good care of us and we appreciate the partnership. We are very optimistic that we can get a very good turnout in the first year of the Hawkeye Nationals. There is a large number of wrestlers from Iowa that attend both Badgerland and Gopher State and they seem to love our tournaments as much as anyone. The Midwest Wrestling Tour is now complete. We truly believe that the upper Midwest is the premiere region of the country when it comes to youth wrestling. Please join us on the tour!
2015-16 was a great year for the MWT. Highlighting the season was the addition of the tournament in South Dakota and fully moving to Track Wrestling for registration, bracketing and live video streaming. Brookings South Dakota welcomed the MWT with open arms. The inaugural Jackrabbit Nationals was a success with 500 kids from 9 different states. We had to battle some issues caused by the Track Wrestling servers but we old school and plowed right through. We now have 11 Track clocks, 14 computers, a router, a switch, rented video cameras and ethernet cable from here to the moon. It takes a while to set up and tear down but is pretty cool to be on the leading edge of technology.
2016-17 has just started. We changed the name of the Jackrabbit Nationals to the Buffalo Nationals. The most exciting thing for this season is the new MWT Belt. The quality of the new belt is amazing. The wrestlers who have seen it absolutely love it. Good luck to all the wrestlers competing on the 2016-17 tour.
We continue to hear from people that our tournaments are the best tournament that they go to. We appreciate that feedback and take a lot of pride in our events. Please feel free to send us your feedback, good or bad. We are always looking for ways to get better.
Thanks again to everyone who has in any way contributed to the MYAS wrestling program and events. I hope to see you in Monticello, La Crosse, Waterloo and Brookings!