The first time I heard about this match was after it happened when I was a little kid. I was about 6 years old when it happened. The only thing I was able to gather about it was that it was a big deal. Why this was, I didn’t know, for I didn’t fully understand the basics of wrestling yet, but I knew it was important, for it was angrily discussed by so many people in the Southeast Iowa wrestling community. 10 years later, I was filled in on why this match was so widely discussed at the time.
My friend, Nick Breuer and I were camping out at the Des Moines County Fair in the year 1999. We hung out by various campfires all night and listened to a spectrum of stories from several different people. The topics we all shot the bull about varied from baseball to gas money, to the animals at the fair, to girls to you name it, but naturally, we ended up settling on discussing wrestling more than anything. And there were some great wrestlers hanging around who came and went that night. 1999 state champ from Columbus Jct. Nick Lee was there… So was Aaron Drain and a couple other wrestlers came and went. The camper/campfire we hung out with for the majority of the night was owned by a family member of one of Southeast Iowa’s most well-known wrestling families to this day… the Malone family. To be specific, it was Jay Malone’s sister, Joni. Joni opened up about her brother, Jay’s finals match in 1990 which ended in controversy. Jay was a Senior and was defeated in the finals by an incredible wrestler and athlete, Brian Moretz from Northwood-Kensett on what many people consider to be a questionable call… To make a long story short, when Joni told this story, she had a few of us rugged, tough-guy, wrestlers in tears due to it hitting us so hard in our collective “feels.” It was difficult for Joni to tell the story without sobbing. It was clear to everyone near the campfire that night, that the outcome of that match cut deep for her family and the Morning Sun wrestling community and considering that Joni told us this story 10 years after the fact and was still torn up about it indicated to me that the void that was planted in the hearts of the Morning Sun wrestling community after this match was likely gonna stay and grow limbs for a while. Time hadn’t healed this wound yet.
Jay was a Senior in 1990, so not only was this Jay’s last match ever as a wrestler, but it was Morning Sun’s last ever HS match, for they shut down the entire school the following year, which meant that the Morning Sun wrestling program went with it. The future of Morning Sun Junior High and High School wrestlers were to be in the hands of a combination of Wapello, Mediapolis, Columbus Jct., New London, Winfield, etc. Wherever they decided to enroll. Morning Sun wrestlers have been HUGE factors for the success of every one of those programs since then. I know Mepo for one wouldn’t have won state in 2015 without the help of Morning Sun-Mepo wrestling star, Mason Buster placing 3rd. Wapello had Paul Wilkerson in the early 90’s, Columbus Jct. had Nick and Eric Lee, I can go on forever about the impact of Morning Sun wrestlers in whichever lineup they may have been in since the school closed. The school may have shut down in that community, but wrestling has remained strong. Morning Sun was, still is and will always be a wrestling community, despite no longer having a high school. A huge part of their identity to this day is wrestling. When you think of certain towns or schools, it’s natural to associate them with what they are known for. For example: Mepo was known for it’s girls basketball for decades, Applington-Parkersburg, Sigourney, Bettendorf, etc. are all known for having consistently elite football programs. Communities like Lisbon, Don Bosco, Osage, Columbus Jct., etc. are communities that are widely associated with wrestling. When you hear the name of any of those communities, it’s not long before you think, “wrestling.” Morning Sun will always be associated with wrestling and it’s difficult to see that ever not being the case given their storied history.
Get this… the Morning Sun program was started in the 60’s by a man named Bob Darrah. Bob Darrah had success in Morning Sun and eventually moved on to start another powerhouse in a much larger community…Des Moines Dowling. One of the wrestlers Darrah coached was standout named Al Baxter. Baxter went on to start a powerhouse of his own that is still raking in the hardware…. A little program called Lisbon. Morning Sun had another HOF coach who got his start there. A man named John Siegel. Siegel had an incredible Head Coaching career at Morning Sun and since the school closed has spent the majority of his years as the perfect complementary assistant coach to HOF HC, Bill Plein of Columbus Jct. Those two are both coaching at Burlington Notre Dame currently. Siegel also spent some time helping out at Wapello and New London. He has achieved success with literally program he has been part of, for he is a known mastermind of the mental approach to the game. And he got his start at Morning Sun. Another huge name to get their start there was “The Voice of College Wrestling” himself, Tim Johnson. He was a state qualifier himself for Morning Sun in the Al Baxter era and coached for a few years at Mt. Vernon and did well. While at Mt. Vernon, he coached Greg Randall to 4 state titles as well as had success with several other wrestlers. He shifted from coaching to commentating in the 80’s, which was a decision I’m personally glad he made, for if there is anyone in the history of wrestling that I would consider to be my #1 inspiration for whatever it is I do now, it is Tim Johnson…and this is because of his post-coaching work with commentating. Before I started commentating Mepo wrestling/baseball and softball games myself for “The Dogcast,” I studied hours of Tim Johnson’s work prior to my first meet. His knowledge of the sport, the passion he has for it that’s easily detected in his voice, his likability, his ability to disguise any potential biases he may have while commenting on a match while still being himself in the process, etc. is just phenomenal. Out of anyone who has ever wrestled or been part of the sport in any way, Johnson is certainly one of my all time favorite wrestling figures/personalities. And the fact that he is a fellow Southeast Iowan makes it even cooler for me. Straight outta Morning Sun!!!
Dowling…Lisbon…Columbus Jct….Tim Johnson…. all traced back to Morning Sun origins. Pretty impressive.
So at the 1990 state tournament, the last ever Morning Sun HS wrestling match to ever take place was to unravel in the state finals…. in the very last match of the tournament, for Morning Sun had a finalist in the HWT division, in which most of us know that the HWT’s are the guys who wrestle last at the state tournament. Head Coach John Siegel had Jay Malone ready to go for the 1A HWT finals match and it seemed as if things were falling into place in a manner that would result in a fairytale ending for one of Iowa’s most storied programs… I mean, you couldn’t write this anymore perfectly. They had the last match of the tournament on lockdown and it was to be called by none other than Morning Sun’s own Tim Johnson. It didn’t seem or feel like things would end on anything, but a positive note… and the thought of things ending on a tragic, catastrophic note just didn’t seem plausible. As you will see, they didn’t receive the farewell they rightfully expected or deserved. Things played out in a manner which almost seemed as if a cruel joke had been played on them.
And none of this is to discredit or throw shade at Jay’s opponent. The wrestler that Jay Malone met in the finals is one of the best heavyweight wrestlers to ever come through the state. Actually, he’s one of the best ever athletes to ever come through the state. His name is Brian Moretz from Northwood-Kensett. While a lot of Morning Sun fans have been vocal in their disagreement with the way the match was called, I’ve never heard one of them say a negative thing about Moretz. He didn’t make the call. He just wrestled… and as usual, he did well until the last few seconds. He is one of the all-time greats and everyone knows it. At the time this match took place, he was a Junior and the returning state champion. He won 3 state titles from 1989-1991 and placed 4th his Freshman year. What makes this more impressive was the fact that he started out as a Freshman at HWT and stayed there his entire career. He finished with a career record of 116-7 with a winning streak of 88. He chose to play football at UNI after HS and was an AA lineman. His accomplishments are incredible. I assume, this match wasn’t how he would have preferred to win, considering how dominant he was. A guy like Moretz probably wanted to win in undeniably dominant fashion… Not in a manner in which the debate was so prevalent and ongoing to where it is still discussed 30 years later as it is right now…
Here is a good look at just how tough he was by the time he was a Senior going for his 3rd state title:
Brian Moretz was and will always be a wrestling legend in the state of Iowa and is in the Hall of Fame. And there isn’t anyone more deserving of that, than him. 4-1-1-1 at HWT is a HUGE feat, and while someone can argue with the call the official made in this match, no one can argue the fact that Moretz more than solidified his status as an all-time wrestling great in his HS wrestling career.
While commentating the tail end of the match, Tim Johnson was noticeably unable to contain his excitement at the end of the match. Johnson is about as good as a person can possibly be when it comes to being a wrestling commentator and when a moment is so huge that it causes him to momentarily lose his composure due to excitement from his personal feelings, then that’s saying something. If a Morning Sun wrestling fan were to watch this match and not go crazy with excitement, I would question whether or not they even cared about wrestling.
So here is the match… This is how the legendary Morning Sun wrestling program ended… Keep in mind that when the video begins, there are roughly 15 seconds left in the match and Moretz has a 5-2 lead:
A few years ago, my brother, Justin wrote and recorded a song called “Til’ The Sun Goes Down” and I thought it’d be cool to use for a tribute video I put together about Morning Sun wrestling (particularly this match) one night while learning how to edit video with Camtasia… Check it out: