I was pretty stoked when Rocky agreed to do this. Not only was he one of my favorite SEIA wrestlers that I looked up to as a kid, but one of my favorite personalities. I knew that he would send me back something that is brutally honest, unapologetic, real, intelligent, insightful and from his own, unique perspective. He delivered.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
All my friends wrestled in grade school and even more tried it in 7th grade, so I said what the heck and tried it in 7th grade also. I didn’t really take it seriously. I was a screw off. I think I wrestled like 6 matches and didn’t win any. I would say I really didn’t get started in wrestling until the 8th grade. I did all the local tournaments and AAU stuff.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
What was your record in HS?
117-37 I think
How did you place at state every year?
DNQ, Qualify, 4th, 3rd
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
Wrestling wise, the biggest challenge I faced was being introduced to the sport so late. SE IA was so tough at the time also. My freshman year I was behind a couple state qualifiers, so I had to wrestle up two weights and was barely .500. I had to look at my 4 years as a progression to get the training I needed to win a title. That didn’t happen, but it is what it is. I wrestled with a ton of other guys from Columbus Junction and Highland on the freestyle circuit. That’s when I really fell in love with wrestling. I’m still good friends with a lot of those guys to this day.
How would you describe your wrestling style? ‘
Explosive and unpredictable. I loved to scramble and I wasn’t afraid to try anything. In my mind, I was out there to put on a show. I would like to think I drove opposing coaches nuts when they tried to scout me. More than anything, it was all evolving and changing from one year to the next.
Who was your most influential coach?
Gavin Hjerleid. I was fortunate that he was my junior high and high school coach. My childhood was rough at best and he welcomed me into his family. I’m pretty sure he hated me at first, I was a horses rear. Something clicked in 8th grade. He was just selling something I wanted to buy. I would have done anything to earn his respect and at that time, I respected nothing. I spent many nights on his couch. I did a lot of things where most coaches would have written me off as a lost cause……he didn’t. I still lean on him for advice to this day. Great man, his wife Julie is a great women. Entire family are great people.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
All losses hurt. Not winning a title hurt. But most of all just not be able to wrestle anymore was the biggest loss of all. At the time wrestling was the only thing that kept my life together and knowing I would be without it scared the hell out of me. I wanted to win and all that stuff, but wrestling was more of a way to survive life for me.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
Absolutely. SE IA was tough as heck back then and it was fun being one of the best teams. Wapello, Columbus Junction, Highland, Mepo and Wilton were tough. We beat Wilton in the district my senior year and then got second behind them at the traditional tournament. Columbus won it in 2A, the rest were all right there. I wrestled at Coe College for Coach O. It was right when Coach O took over. I’d like to think the guys I wrestled with in college were the ones that helped Coach O revive Coe’s wrestling program. A ton of the guys I wrestled with are successful coaches today.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
As I said before, I started late so I didn’t know a bunch of the good high school or college guys growing up. Randy Pugh is definitely someone who I looked up to and he was only two years ahead of me. He just did things the right way and was just a good dude. His style was so slick and he just looked so effortless out on the mat. I remember watching him and trying to mimic that style. We don’t need to talk about him tech’ing me my freshman year. One other thing about Randy is the way he was off the mat. Sometimes you see these dominate guys walking around trying to be cool off the mat, but Randy was a humble guy. There is a reason he is a successful D1 coach. Much respect.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
I enjoy watching Adam Allard (West Sioux), Will Esmoil (West Libery), Matthew Lewis (Centerville), Drake Ayala (Fort Dodge). Got to give a shout out to my boy Daniel Meeker (Wapello). Love ya kid!
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
This will sound cheesy but it is absolutely true………I wouldn’t change anything. Every success and failure made me who I am today.
What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment? How hard did you work?
Wrestling was a means to stay grounded. It gave me purpose and discipline. I would have never graduated from college if I didn’t wrestle. Half my family didn’t graduate from high school, so I’m fortunate to earn a Bachelors and Masters degree.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school?
College? Bobby Gonshrowski, Brent Sweeting, Blu Whale, Nick Ackerman, Randy Pugh.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Back then the club scene was a little different. You could actually have clubs ran by high school coaches. I wrestled in Brad Smith’s club at City High. I wrestled through June/Julyish and then picked back up a few weeks before the season. We hit the local freestyle scene and did freestyle state, Junior Regionals, etc. We wrestled a few big tournaments like the Cadet World Trials. I was way better at freestyle, qualified for nationals a few times.
Did you wrestle after high school?
Ummm yea, I struggled with some stuff like a lot of kids after high school and ended up at Coe College after a few years. I had some success, but like I said I struggled with some life stuff.
What other sports did you play?
Played baseball, track, football until high school. Football and wrestling in high school. I liked to chase girls!
What are your favorite sports teams?
Braves, Broncos, Hawkeyes.
What are your hobbies?
Wrestling of course. My wife and I bike a ton. We’ve been fortunate to ride all over the country and parts of Hawaii. Its not something I ever thought I’d enjoy, but I love it. We travel a ton. We’ve been fortunate to take some pretty wild trips. We biked down a volcano in Maui, the Road to Hana, Napa Valley, Hwy 1 in Cali, etc. We do ragbrai and ride in a couple different states every year. I’m really into music. Anything but new country. New country isn’t country btw, its pop rock……….I think I just threw up in my mouth. Really been getting back into 90s grunge lately and loving new rap/hip hop. Dig me some Post Malone, Lizzo.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling has been a life long journey for me. I think people always focus on wins/losses/titles. Even as a coach I always focus on life success. That is what is important to me. I said earlier i grew up under some rough circumstances. That gave me a ton of inner demons. I did some things I regret. I was angry and wanted to fight everybody. A lot of people don’t know that I struggled with alcoholism at a young age. I’ve been sober for 13 years. Through my teen and early adult years through college I was in and out of trouble with the law.
I somehow managed to stay in wrestling, for I knew I needed it. I was always a pretty smart kid. I knew deep down that I needed to wrestling to give me structure, discipline, etc. The things a family should give you. That’s why I love this sport so much. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I hadn’t been introduced to the sport. I really don’t think I would have been strong enough to succeed without it.
What do you do now?
My wife Sunny and I own a dental practice in Wapello. We have two boys, Rocky Jr (10) and Lucky (6). We are in the process of relocating to the Riverside(Highland) area.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Absolutely. Not only do I want to pay it forward like most coaches, but I need wrestling in my life to keep me grounded and remind me of why life is so good. I was the head coach at Wapello for 8 years. Had a ton of success and just hung it up in May. My wife and I decided it was time for a change in scenery. So we are relocating to Highland School district (still in the process). I am helping out at with the program, mostly with kids. I’m good buddies with Coach Ball and Coach Cole, so once my family gets transitioned to the area, I hope to be in their high school room full time also. They have a ton of support, some great former guys in the kids program and some other good things going on there.
So, should it be called “The Mena Roll” or “The Rocky Roll?” Because I’ve always associated that move with you. Noone has done it better. Where did you learn it?
HAHA, I knew you would ask me about that. I don’t know where it originated from. It is called the ventriloquist. I learned it from Mike Mena. I believe he was a two time finalist for the hawks. He showed it at Brad Smith’s City High camp and it just clicked from the very first time. I never really thought I’d be known for it, but I still have people that bring it up at tournaments every once in a while. I throw it around a little now and again still. Here is a funny Coach O story………We were getting ready to wrestle Cornell my freshman year. We were warming up pre-meet and one of our coaches came up to me and was like “I know you have that move the big Houdini, or whatever it is called, but lets go out there and get a couple takedowns first.” I still don’t know what that was all about. I was a freshman and only hit it a couple times in practice. Coach O came up to me a few minutes later and was like, “Hey if its there hit that sucker.” Stuck the kid around 30 seconds. My boys will be hitting it sometime in the future for sure.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
We put so much pressure on these kids as parents, coaches and fans. We forget that they are just kids. We still need to be hard on them and teach them the values the sport can give. We are taking the joy out of the sport. It still has to be fun. Social media, posted rankings, message boards put so much pressure on these kids and I couldn’t imagine dealing with that stuff back when I wrestled. When I coach, I’m hard on them but I also embrace them, love them and make sure they have fun. One thing they need to do is tell their parents to shut up and sit in the stands. Parents are too involved in their kids success. Kids need to be left alone to survive on their own. You raise them and give them the foundation they need as children. As they become young adults you have to let go and let them find their own way.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Heck yes!!!!! I still wrestle quite a bit, but I have to work on this dad bod before stepping out on the mat!
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Sure…..these are the coaches, buddies and competitors who I’m glad to have been around…….Gavin Hjerleid, Coach O, Paul Wilkerson, Marcus Kurtz, Jamie Gibbs, John Siegel, Bill Plein, Brian Bozman, Brad Smith, Brett Shafer………and the rest of the Coe/ Wapello guys. I do want to say I’m lucky to have competed at a special time in SE IA. There was a crazy level of respect among the area greats. I’m lucky to have wrestled with all you guys. RIP JD Pugh.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
Man I don’t think so, I think I laid it all out there.
1996: 2A 140
1.) Bobby Gonshorowski, Jr., Washington
2.) Mike Fertig, Jr., Webster City
3.) Elliot Nielson, Sr., Laurens, Northwest
4.) Rocky Hamilton, Jr., Wapello
5.) Justin Nolan, Sr., Benton Community, Van Horne
6.) Todd Schmauss, So., Crestwood, Cresco
1996: 1A 152
1.) Benji Silver, Jr., Central City
2.) Andy Kiger, Sr., Audubon
3.) Rocky Hamilton, Sr., Wapello
4.) Blu Wahle, So., Underwood
5.) Clint Jones, Jr., Bondurant-Farrar
6.) Nick Ackerman, Sr., Colfax-Mingo