I remember the first time I was ever made aware of the existence of Oakland (Riverside). I was in 7th grade in 1996 and watched the state finals at my grandpa’s house. Highland-Riverside is in the same region as my home town of Mediapolis. Riverside, to me, was “Highland.” So when the announcers kept confusing Highland (Riverside) with Oakland (Riverside), my immediate thought process was, “how do these guys keep confusing Highland with the Oakland Raiders?” So you can about imagine my confusion when this guy named Kyle Canoyer who wrestled for Oakland Riverside stepped on to the mat to wrestle his finals match against JD Pugh from Columbus Jct. and had superstar Hall of Fame Raiders LB, Howie Long accompanying him to the match and coaching him. The announcers introduced Howie Long as “Mitch Anderson.” And Mitch Anderson puts Howie Long to shame. Mitch was at the peak of what ended up becoming a brilliant Hall of Fame coaching career. He had a group of warriors in that era. And one of these warriors who had a fanastic 1996 state tournament was a wrestler named Steve Swope.
I just met Steve Swope a few hours ago when I pm’d him and asked him to do one of these. He seems like a cool person, just as I’ve heard people say about him. He’s very hard on himself, though. His first response to me was, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m worth remembering compared to some of these guys who have done them already, since I am a 1X qualifier, 1X champ and all…I don’t belong in the same sentence as most of them.” I thought to myself, “man, if he feels that way about himself, I wonder if he feels that I would even belong in the same grunts, belches and barf noises as these guys considering I was a lowly 1X qualifier, 1X placer myself.” He immediately let me know he was joking and that he would be honored to do one, in which I am honored to write an article about him and the formidable, tough crew that he was part of.
Steve Swope, everyone! I’ve heard nothing, but great things about him.\
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
I was in the Oakland little kids program starting in 3rd grade. I wrestled 1 year JV and 3 years varsity at Riverside. Then I was a 4 year letter-winner at Simpson College.
What year did you graduate?
1996 from Riverside and 2000 from Simpson
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
I moved to Oakland in 3rd grade and signed up because all my friends or kids I wanted to be friends with were in wrestling. I also liked running up the side of the padded walls in the wrestling room and driving the coaches crazy.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
No one before me in my family had much wrestling experience, but we’re now a fairly large wrestling family:
-My brother Robert was a 2-time place winner and wrestled for a year with me at Simpson. He now lives in Charlottesville, VA where he’s involved with the Paulson twins to help support the Cavalier program.
-My brother-in-law, Shawn Danker, was a 2-time place winner back in the day for Oakland. He also wrestled at Central and UNO. He’s been the head coach of Guthrie Center for close to 20 years now. Before that he was an assistant at West Delaware. So he’s dedicated his life to wrestling and has been in my corner for most of my wrestling career.
-My nephew, Seth Danker (Shawn’s son) will be a senior next season. He’s a 2-time qualifier and will possibly be looking to wrestle somewhere in college.
-My brother-in-law (wife’s brother) Kaleb McCarty was a 2-time place winner (2nd in 1997 as a sophomore). He unfortunately had to hang it up after his sophomore year.
-My oldest boy is 7 and has just started to get into youth wrestling here in Adel. He wrestled and won his only beginner tournament so far. I’m looking forward to both my boys involvement, bringing me back onto the mat.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
My youth results were pretty terrible until I got into the AAU scene in 6th – 8th grade. Because my involvement at the start was limited, my parents weren’t that knowledgeable in the beginning. This meant I only wrestled in one tournament each year, the hometown Oakland little kids tournament, in 3rd and 4th grade. I didn’t win a single match either year. I started to improve as my parents started taking me to a couple more tournaments outside of Oakland after that. I placed 4th at AAU state in Cedar Rapids in 7th grade (1991), although I seem to remember there were only 6 kids in the whole bracket. In 8th grade (1992) I placed 6th at AAU state in a larger, more competitive bracket.
Because I didn’t wrestle many tournaments, I didn’t really have any rivals. But once I started to get more matches under my belt, a rivalry started to emerge with Jeff Evans (Riverside high school teammate). I use ‘rivalry’ loosely here because I never beat him. Jeff thought he was too good to wrestle for the local club, so we went to Council Bluffs and wrestled for the Panthers (part of the Keith Massey powerhouse system at the time). He was an AAU state champ and multiple year place winner, who I just could never beat. **Jeff is one of my closest friends to this day and is an important coach at SEP that has helped build that program into a state powerhouse with national relevance**
What was your record in HS?
I honestly don’t remember. It wasn’t that great, so now I’m questioning why I’m doing this and why anyone would care (LOL):
-probably a little over .500 my freshman year
-wrestled JV my sophomore year (was caught between Evans and Jimmy Rodgers for a starting spot)
-was having a good junior year where I was ranked before an injury held me out a big portion of the year. I came back for Sectionals at less than 100%, but couldn’t get past a tough District (Eric Hart from Coon Rapids got 2nd at State that year from this Sectional and District).
-49-2 senior year record. Lost a close match to Matt Anderson of Shenandoah early in the year.
How did you place at state every year?
1st in 1996 (my only trip to state)
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
Have you been reading this? Obviously there are too many challenges to list when you look at how bad I was at different times, but wrestling JV helped shape my confidence. It was a gut punch to my confidence at first. I was varsity as a freshman but then had to wrestle JV the next year because these younger punks came in and took my spot, so I certainly questioned my talent and commitment. But it gave me a chance to win a bunch of tournaments, work on my technique instead of fighting for my life every match, and in the end really helped with my confidence. I’m grateful for that.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I wasn’t a brawler or thrower. I never felt comfortable doing that and didn’t ever practice Greco or anything. I would say my style was athletic and opportunistic. I was pretty quick, had good defense and was hard to keep on the mat….so I used a lot of front heads, snap downs, and go behinds off bad/lazy shots. I was comfortable on top mainly using cheap tilts. I scored a lot of points, but never got a lot of pins. That type of stuff. As I wrestled through college, my leg attack technique started to improve greatly so high-C and outside singles were my go-to. I also perfected the technique of giving myself a bloody nose to get a breather.
Who was your most influential coach?
I’ve been lucky to have so many influential coaches during my career:
-Mitch Anderson was such a great high school coach that did and is still doing so much for the Riverside community. Dave Putnam was an assistant coached that really helped to get me motivated at the right time.
-Ron Peterson, Scott Gonyo, Jeremy Whalen were great to have in my corner at Simpson at different times.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
The high school program I was a part of was always really competitive. Riverside won the state tournament championship my senior year by a wide margin.
Simpson wrestling had a really competitive, good team my freshman and sophomore years. We placed 5th at NCAAs my sophomore year as a team with some really tough dudes in that room.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Brad Canoyer 4X place winner and 2nd his senior year, All-American at Nebraska (Kyle Canoyer’s older brother) was always the guy that I admired in the program growing up.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
So many to choose from, but impossible to pick. I remember watching Jeff McGinness and thinking how easy he made it look winning his 4th. I had so much respect and admiration for Eric Juergens. He seemed so humble and thoughtful off the mat, while being relentless and basically never making a mistake in any position on it. But then you have so many options to choose from with the recent hammers that have come through. Impossible question.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
David Carr for the Cyclones. Spencer Lee for the Hawks. I think we need excitement and big pins in our sport to keep growing it and expanding to casual fans, and no one does that better than Penn State, so I’d also have to include Bo Nickal, Mark Hall, etc. At the senior level of course Burroughs, Snyder, and Cox.
How would you describe the Oakland Riverside squad of your era to someone who didn’t witness it?
The Riverside wrestling program in my era was highly competitive and had a lot of confidence. We had goals and expected to be at the top or near the top of every tournament, especially my senior year. Even though we were 1A we expected to closely compete or beat the larger top programs from the area (Lewis Central, Clarinda, etc.). When I think back to those teams, there were multiple D1, D3, JC wrestlers and a D1 football player on those teams. Pretty impressive for a small 1A school:
-Kyle Canoyer 2X state champ (wrestled at Nebraska)
-Jimmy Rodgers 3X state champ (wrestled at Iowa State)
-Jeff Evans 2X place winner (wrestled at UNI and Wartburg, coach at SEP)
-Daniel Klindt 2nd place in 1996 (wrestled at Iowa Central)
-Robert Swope 2X place winner (wrestled at Simpson)
-Jake Havick 2X place winner (played football for K-state)
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
I didn’t listen to music. Mostly because it was annoying having to hold that portable CD player level…..who wants to do that?
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Again, I had a lot so it’s tough to remember all of them, but I would say my senior year at Simpson. My first 3 years at Simpson I wrestled up a weight (sometimes 2 weights) for most of my matches. Those 3 years, I was behind 2 different multiple All-Americans at my weight (John Hatfield and Matt Young) so my senior year I was at my natural weight class. Going into the IIAC conference tournament I was confident and personally expected to be a conference champion, which would spring board into the national tournament. I lost a close semi-final match to Casey Doyle from Wartburg. That was a tough one after all the hard work and goals I had set, but it also meant I wasn’t guaranteed a spot at the national tournament. I did end up getting 3rd and one of the wild card spots to the national tournament, so it ended up not being as bad as it could have.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
After losing a match in 6th grade to Brad Scoles from Underwood, I ripped my head gear off while crying and managed to hit my mom in the face (ON ACCIDENT!) while she was trying to console me…..giving her a cut under her eye. She stormed off and I followed while repeating, “I’m sorry” over and over. Sorry mom!
Also, doing a little more freestyle and Greco would of helped, so I’d change that.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Winning State was my best memory/accomplishment, but it did feel good to get that first win in Anita, Iowa in 5th grade after never winning a match my first 2 years.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Definitely seasonal. Didn’t have much exposure or matches when I was younger, then I was a 4 sport guy in high school. Baseball and work consumed by summer, but every once in a while I’d go over to Keith Massey’s summer program in Council Bluffs and roll around if I had friends going over….mainly used as a throw dummy for the more talented guys in the room.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
As I watch high school and college wrestling today, I’m just so impressed by the level of competition and parity at the highest levels. These kids today are really really good and from what I hear from my friends that are a lot closer to it than I am, unless you’re a freak athlete, the top guys are wrestling competitively almost year round. As much as it hurts my pride, I’d say the kids today are better than back in my era. But that’s great! To grow our sport we need evolution and increased levels of competition and from what I see, the talent level in the state of Iowa is at or near the top nationally. With that said, the Riverside 1996 team would still run away with the team title in 1A 😊
Did you wrestle after high school?
Wrestled 4 years at Simpson College.
What other sports did you play?
-4 years wrestling
-4 years football
-4 years baseball
-4 years golf
What are your favorite sports teams?
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I have 3 kids under 8, so we’re busy running around keeping them entertained and active in the ADM community. Personally I like to stay active, whether that’s golfing/boating/landscaping our property/etc.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
With my busy work schedule and career path, I was out of the sport for a good 15 years (though I did watch and attend the D1 wrestling championships each year) but I’m really looking forward to getting back into it with my boy’s involvement.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Like most wrestlers, I appreciate the mental toughness it helped me with. Whether it’s personal, family, work, etc. that you struggle with at some point, once you’ve wrestled….everything else seems easier as Dan Gable points out.
What do you do now?
I’m a healthcare advisory sales executive with 3M.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I’m just starting to get back into it with my boy’s involvement.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
The importance of a really good warm-up before your matches. I wish I would of understood this more, earlier in my career.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Thankfully the Olympics are being pushed out for a year, which gives me time to train for that instead of any Old Timer’s Tournaments.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
There are too many people to list out. So many great people who have helped shape their families and communities because of this sport.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
People who know wrestling in Iowa usually ask me about Tim Cory from Bondurant. Tim was only a freshman when I wrestled him in the finals. What I remember is him being really raw, aggressive, and having really good conditioning for someone that young. Luckily I was a senior that came through a really tough Riverside room, so I was pretty confident heading into our match and was able to out-technique him for multiple takedowns….but I certainly knew after the match that that wasn’t a normal freshman and he had a bright future. As we were sitting on the chairs beside each other, watching the 130 lb finals before going up on the stand, Tim had his head down and was naturally emotional. I gave him a pat on the back/shoulder and told him he had a bright future, so hold his head up. He didn’t say anything, just gave me a big hug. That’s the last time I saw him so I’m hoping to connect or hear about how he’s doing at some point.