Usually first impressions last to some extent. Even if you slowly start to realize that the first impression that you have or had of someone was incorrect, it is tough to change that perception you have of them because first impressions can just be so hard to shake. It’s like they have a tendency to stick. I remember one of the first parties that I went to my Junior year at Loras College, there was this stumbling, drunken mess of a guy who was hardly able to speak, but when he did it would be a combination of swear words and alcohol-induced jibberish and after an hour so of being at that party, let’s just say that he tried to do something in which a toilet was needed, but failed miserably and he made a huge mess… I never saw him at another party or bar again. I still saw him a lot though, for I I had a lot of classes with that guy and I couldn’t believe how much different he acted when he was not under the influence of alcohol. I mean that literally. I couldn’t get my mind to believe it was the same guy. He was well-spoken, professional and very intelligent and had a lot of that interesting takes on certain topics that we’d cover in class that he was always willing to discuss with anyone there and he would do so with the utmost clarity. However, whenever I had class with him, I always had it in my mind that I needed to be aware of where the nearest toilet was, just in case I needed to direct this guy to it so he didn’t make a mess on the floor. I couldn’t shake that first impression I had of him.
There are exceptions though. And for me, Derick Ball is one of those. My perception of Derick Ball as a wrestler took a complete 180 from the perception I had of him when I first saw him wrestle as like a 4th or 5th grader and the 2 years following that. No offense to Derick, but he wasn’t one of these guys that wrestling just clicked for immediately. He was always put in the same bracket as my brother, Justin at youth tourneys and it seemed like those first couple years that he wrestled, the focus seemed to be to not trip over his own feet… I mean, to his defense, my brother was an animal since he was a 2nd grader and he made a lot of people look worse than they actually were over the years, but Ball seemed to be somewhat of a shoe-in for 4th place at most of the youth tourneys that I saw him at. In retrospect, it was probably kind of a bad deal for him because at most tourneys, they try to pair the kids by skill-level. So they always at least attempted to put Justin with the best guys in the weight range and most of the time there were 2-3 good guys per weight range at every tournament and from the time Derik started, he seemed to be the unlucky guy that occupied the open 4th slot in all of my brother’s brackets, so he was fed to the wolves from the time he started, pretty much. I always expected to be a matter of time before he quit because a lot of kids do quit when they have a difficult time that spans years… Derick did not quit, though. In fact, by the time he hit Junior High and High School, he began taking out some pretty big names. And it was a steady progression, too. Like in his first jump he may have beaten some guy who almost made it to state once. Next jump, he beat a guy with a winning record who qualified for state one time. Next jump he’s pinning those guys who merely had winning records and he is getting beaten in good matches vs. state placers. Next jump, he is taking out some of these state placers. And before I knew it, Derick Ball was placing at state himself and was one of the legit top guys at his weight class that consisted of several talented wrestlers. His Senior year, for example. That weight would have returning runner-up at state, Tony Hager, who was really, really good (and my first impression of him was him taking Mack Reiter into OT, and I’ve never been able to shake that impression of Hager), Andy Roush from Wilton who was really good and a thorn in the side to a lot of guys, Josh Knipfer from New London, Mark Kist from Eagle Grove and Patrick Makey from Logan-Magnolia who actually won the bracket. Those were the guys at that weight when Derick Ball was a Senior and by that time, Derick had impressed me so much with his wrestling skills that I thought he had just as good of a shot to win it as anyone. It was as if the years where I would see his name on a bracket and advise my brother Justin “not to hurt him” never existed. My impression of Derick Ball completely changed due to the vast and consistent improvements I observed from him. I was very happy for him. He was always a real nice guy to us and it was cool to see nice things happen to a nice kid who obviously worked his ass off to get where he was. And he continues to coach wrestling and I don’t think it’s a reach to assume that Ball is probably very good and patient with these guys who are not world-beaters from the instant they begin. Anyone who wrestles for Derick Ball is in good hands, I guarantee it.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
Believe it or not both my brother and I lived in the L-M school district and open enrolled to Columbus. I wrestled for the Columbus Junction Youth Club under Doug Pugh and Andy Milder. Wrestled for Columbus in High School and a year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
What year did you graduate?
I graduated from Columbus in 2003.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My cousin, Justin Scheef would have been the one who got us going. He placed 4th for Columbus in 95. Myself, my brother Brandon, Seth Pugh, and Zack Pugh are all first cousins and we were raised like brothers. It is something that we did together and shared. My mom took me to youth tournaments. It took some time for my Dad to become a fan. He was a basketball player. He evolved and is now a wrestling nut. I had a good support system. At that time it wasn’t hard to get excited about the CJ wrestling program. Doug Pugh had a good thing going with the youth program and the groundwork was being laid for years of success. Had it not been for Doug Pugh, my Uncle Lanny Pugh, and Andy Milder, I would not have stuck with wrestling.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestle currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
Brother Brandon Ball-Placed 7th and 1st in high school. All-American at Coe (4th)
Cousins: Seth Pugh-Placed 4th, 5th, and 1st. Wrestled at UNI and Coe
Zack Pugh-Placed 8th
Adam and Paul Reid-Placewinners at Fort Madison
Justin Scheef-Placed 4th for CJ in 95 (Wrestled at Ellsworth)
I have two daughters. They like to go to wrestling meets for the concession stands and candy. They are both into dance. Not interested in wrestling. I can see them as cheerleaders or statisticians.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
Not good. No rivalries because I didn’t win much. If you would have thrown a wet paper bag on my head I may have suffocated before fighting free. I didn’t have much for natural ability. I got to take beatings from Justin Swafford about every weekend. Also took beatdowns from Robbie McIntyre, Mack Reiter, and many many others. I never qualified for AAU and I am not sure that I ever won a match at AAU Districts. I went about every year. I remember one year I had five kids in my bracket at Districts. Just needed one win. Didn’t happen. My mom took me to all the youth tournaments. Through countless disappointments, she kept me going. I learned a ton about perseverance through my youth career.
What was your record in HS?
How did you place at state every year?
Qualified as a Soph
Placed 4th as a Junior and Senior
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
I wasn’t a gifted athlete. I had to work for everything. I came into middle school with no confidence and just doing it because my friends and family expected me too. During 8th grade something clicked. Andy Milder is someone that I owe so much to.
I remember beating Jared Pierce from Wapello my freshman year after losing to him over and over in youth and then again that year in high school. That may have been my turning point.
As a sophomore I improved a ton. Had some battles with Spencer Manning and that year started the Roush battles. We wrestled Wilton that year in regionals. I remember Joe Storm and Dustin Bliven coming to me and telling me to not get pinned. I was pissed. Roush came out and took me down and cradled me in about 15 seconds. I fought off and ended up winning 14-11 or something like that. The reaction I got from the upperclassman was something I won’t forget.
My junior year was great until I got upset in the first round of state. I wrestled back to 3rd and 4th and lost to Roush for the first time in high school. I felt like I paved the way for a state championship run. Not the case.
My senior year was rough. I cut some weight and lost my confidence. It started with cross country. I ran a terrible race at Districts and didn’t qualify. After winning about every race that season. I went into wrestling and cut back to 103. Caleb Martin was an incoming freshman and I felt it was best for the team. He and I were best friends that year and ended up wrestling off for 103. It put some strain on our friendship but we worked through it. I love and miss that dude.
I did an okay job with my weight but the constant battle messed with my head. I was a mess. Without Plein, Siegel, and Milder, no way I would have placed that year. So many ups and downs. Those guys held me together. Looking back at my high school career, I never got what I wanted. I remember walking down to the basement after losing in the semis. Complete devastation. Looking back, I wanted to win a title, but I never believed I could. I put in the work. No one out worked me. My mind was the problem. I wanted it, but didn’t truly believe I could win it all. I watched guys like Randy Pugh, JD, Nick Lee, Jason Payne, etc win state titles. I wanted that. It never happened. I wrestled with that for a lot of years. Most were impressed with all that I accomplished because they remember what I was as a kid and were shocked at the improvement. Not me. I still have a bad taste in my mouth. I am extremely hard on myself. As a coach I have figured out a way to turn my experiences into lessons for my team. Everything that I experienced as an athlete has made me a better person. I have no regrets, I just didn’t get what I wanted.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Methodical and controlling. No flash. I was a grinder. I had to use my brain because I wasn’t going to out muscle and I wasn’t quick. I had a good switch that I used to create scrambles and when I got on top I had an arm bar.
I remember wrestling Justin Brown from Centerville at Mepo my junior year. He was stronger, faster, and better at wrestling. He was better on his feet and on the mat. I knew my shot was to keep things tight and win with one move at the end. I created a snooze fest and reversed him with 5 seconds left. When all else failed, I tried to use my brain to help overcome some of my other deficiencies.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
I mentioned Jared Pierce from Wapello. Spencer Manning from Mepo. Justin Brown from Centerville. Then of course Roush. We had a heck of a rivalry. I think I won the series in high school 4-3. I could be wrong. Bottom line, he won when it mattered. He beat me for 3rd and 4th both my junior and senior years. I remember hearing from my family a story about walking through the sky walk and hearing Wilton fans whisper “Roush” as they went back and forth to the arena. It was intense.
I didn’t go back and forth with Hager but he was someone I always really prepared for. I remember after my junior year I knew he would be ranked number one. Hager was the runner up Junior year. I had notes all over the place to be used for preparing me and motivating me for wrestling him. We ended up wrestling in the semis at state our Senior year and he won.
Who was your most influential coach?
I had so many good ones. Mike Jay was an incredible cross country coach. Then you had Siegel and Milder. Today those guys are still impacting my life in a positive way. That is the thing about being a part of the Columbus wrestling program. You are family for life.
I have to say my most influential is Plein. He made me the man I am today. The coach I am today. When I need advice, I call him. I can’t put into words what he has done for me in my life.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
We were a good team in high school. We qualified for regionals every year but one. Lost to Tri-County my freshman year and Wilton my sophomore year. I don’t remember what happened my junior year. I hate wording things like this but we should have made duals my senior year. We were upset by L-M at sectionals. They ended up making it and placing 3rd I believe.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Randy Pugh started it all. He was dominant. Nick Lee was a close second. I drilled with him at practice a few times his senior year. I will never forget that. Dustin Bliven came to CJ my sophomore year. He took me under his wing and was like a big brother. He has had a huge impact on my life.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
I would have to say TJ Sebolt. In part because I felt the wrath. The dude was a machine. He might be a better coach than wrestler. That is scary to think about.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
I have gotten to know Alex Marinelli through camps. He is an absolute stand up dude and I love the way he competes.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
I can’t even remember. I was a Chevelle fan. Definitely rock.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Losing to Tony Hager in the semis my senior year was the most upset I was. Walking off the mat, all I could think about was that my dream was dead. I am not an Uncle Rico (Napoleon Dynamite reference), but it took me a long time to come to grips with not winning a title. Back then you had to turn around and wrestle again during that same session. I had about an hour to pout then it was back on the mat.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
At one time I would have changed so much. Looking back, everything I experienced was such a blessing. Although I didn’t accomplish what I wanted, my career shaped me into the father, husband, and coach that I am today. I met so many great people and being a part of the CJ wrestling family and CJ wrestling tradition is something I cherish. I would change nothing.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
Best memory would be watching Seth and Brandon win their titles. Best accomplishment would coaching Fletcher Green to a title while working at Washington. Nothing better than seeing a kid that did everything right, accomplish his dream.
For me as a competitor, beating Justin Brown at the Mepo tournament my junior year was a big win and a good memory.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
Justin Brown. Russell Weakley. Andy Roush. Josh Knipfer. Mitch Peterson. Doyle Bohr. Robbie McIntyre. Justin Swafford. Jay Borschel. Sebolt. Tony Hager. Gannon Hjerleid.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
All year. Never went to Fargo but did lots of Freestyle Tournaments.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
Kids are coming into high school seasoned. It is a new age. I don’t feel like we had the same club opportunities back in the day. However, there were some TOUGH dudes. Weight cutting was a different deal for us too. It would be interesting.
Did you wrestle after high school?
I wrestled for one year at Coe.
What other sports did you play?
I ran cross country, track, and played baseball.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Chicago Cubs and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Spending time with my family. I also have my own lawn care business. It’s a business but kind of a hobby. I also enjoy time on the river.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
No better feeling. Wrestling has given me so much. Now I get to repay the sport that I love.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling in everything to me. I started out coaching for the wins and losses. It was about me. That is a shallow way of doing things. A conversation with a parent (Brian Hora) changed everything for me. It is not that I am living vicariously through my kids, I just love to see them succeed. That is not limited to the wrestling mat. People watch me coach and I am sure they think I am a jack wagon. I am passionate and I am going to fight tooth and nail for my athletes. When they graduate, I will continue to be there for them. Fight for me and I will fight for you. I am living my dream. I get to give back to the sport that gave everything to me. I get to teach kids how this sport can impact your life. I tell the Zach Walgren story often. He had some challenges off the mat. He worked his tail off and did everything we asked. Ended up qualifying and winning a match in Des Moines. He now lives close to me and is kicking butt in the real world. He has a good job and is a good father. That’s what I love to see!
What do you do now?
I am a school counselor and the head wrestling coach at Highland.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I will never not be involved. Anyone that has concerns about having their child wrestle, get a hold of me. I have been through the low points. The sport is a prep course for how to be successful in life.
How much of an honor is it to have such an integral role at a respectable program like Highland?
It means everything. The goal to give the program back to the community. To the Highland wrestling families! There are so many passionate wrestling people in this community. I want them to be proud of what we are building. We have a good thing going right now. I came in with a vision. The seniors of 2019 got things rolling. Then Cael Yeggy kept things rolling. That kid only wrestled three years in high school and qualified for the state tournament. He is a great example of what buying in can do. Our youth program has numbers and I have lots of great people contributing. Even though I am not a Highland graduate I have been welcomed with open arms and I get to coach with some great people. I can’t say enough about all of the guys I coach with and those that help out with the youth stuff. We are poised to do some special things in the coming years. It is going to be FUN!
How was your experience at Washington? What are some of the memories that stick out to you in coaching there?
I loved my time in Washington. The people I met there are still some of my closest friends. WE did it right. All home grown. This might ruffle feathers but I feel we were poised to challenge for a dual title in 2017. Unfortunately, and I am not trying to stir the pot, kids transferred schools, and it didn’t work out. All of the kids in our lineup came up through our youth program. You want to understand how to build from the ground up, Brent VW knows. He has the blueprint. We had the same coaching staff for ten years. It’s hard to keep a band together that long.
There is nothing better than coaching on Saturday night. Best memories are definitely coaching Fletcher Green, Brad Skubal, and Trey VW on Saturday night. 2017 was an amazing ride. Those seniors had a ton of mileage. They put Washington on the map. Watching Brent and Trey embrace after his win in the semis is something I will never forget. Such a cool moment. Not many know the challenges those two went through with the sport of wrestling.
Austin Hazelett’s blood round match still sends my blood pressure through the roof. He got reversed late and was dead to rights on the edge of the mat. I screamed and screamed for him to get out of bounds. He built up to his belly and got a restart. He ended up reversing the kid to his back as time expired. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears went into that kid. He paid the price. Multiple surgeries. Seeing him get a medal was so special.
Finally watching Zach Walgren qualify for state was a great memory for me. He was one of the most coachable kids I had at Wash.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Obviously I have a bias. Wrestling is more than a sport. It teaches accountability, discipline, respect, and so much more. At Highland we talk about drinking the Kool-Aid (no cult ties/affiliation). Drinking the Kool-Aid means you are committed to doing the right things on and off the mat. We want our kids to get it done in the classroom. We want them to be good sons/daughters and brothers/sisters. We focus on what it takes to be a good leader. We focus on the importance of the impression you leave on others. We want the kids that go through our program to be better wrestlers, but also better men and women. We want them to graduate ready for success in the real world and with an understanding of how to treat others. If you want to learn the lessons you need to be successful, wrestling is where it’s at.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
No. That ship has sailed. It’s not about me anymore. I am involved in the sport for the kids I coach. Plus I am fat and out of shape. Way better chance you see me shoveling popcorn at one of my kid’s dance recitals or dominating the father/daughter dance circuit.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Definitely a shout out to Andy Roush. We had some knock down drag outs.
Shout out to Dan Burton as he trains to be a Marine. Love that dude. He drank the Kool-Aid. Shout out to the whole Highland Class of 2019. They did a ton to bring attention back to the program.
I learned more from Fletcher Green than he did from me. He is a stand up dude.
I want to say a special thanks to my wife. The sacrifices that spouses of coaches make typically goes unnoticed. She is a rock star and that allows me to do what I love.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
I remember wrestling Mepo at home my sophomore year. It was a heated dual and it was going to be close. I was told before the dual to get things started the right way. Get the crowd into it. I took that literally. I was losing the whole match and ended up coming back in the third period to win. I stood up and did some hand gestures to fire up the crowd. Acted like a moron. Bad idea. I spent the next five minutes in the locker room with Coach Siegel. I never celebrated a win for the rest of my career in anything. Be respectful and act like you deserve to win and act as if you have been there before. That was a huge learning experience for me. That moment taught me to respect my opponent and respect the sport. I didn’t regain the ability to hear out of my left ear for a couple days. I will never forget that.