I have written multiple times that the Helgeson family is among Iowa’s best wrestling families ever. There’s Chris, Dan, Tim, Justin, Caleb, Owen, Tyler, etc. The list goes on. There are a lot of them and they are all good. Every one of them. You never see a Helgeson who isn’t good at wrestling, ever. And their kids are doing good now. I have always made it a point to keep up with the Helgeson family and their accolades. I have always rooted for them. They are all stand-up guys, from my experience(s). I am very familiar with the majority of them in terms of what they did or who they beat or whatever it may be, for their last name has stuck out to me for decades. For 27 years, to be exact. And there is a reason for that. One of the most memorable matches I ever had in my entire wrestling career was against a Helgeson. That match was against an insanely talented wrestler named Brad Helgeson, from Lake Mills. And we were just 4th graders.
To start, Brad Helgeson was always just an awesome dude, every time I’ve ever spoken to him. And he was able to hit moves that were too advanced for most guys at such a young age. It’s hard to explain. He seemed extremely athletic and had that going for him, but also just seemed to be able to beat guys in the toughest of scrambles. I watched him all through high school. He just got better and better and better as time went on and to be honest, the results and accomplishments that he ended up reeling in when it was all over, do not paint the picture in terms of just how good the guy was. I felt like he had the talent and skill level to win a couple state championships, but sometimes this sport is abrasive. And he still accomplished a hell of a lot at a time and weight range that was very tough at the time.
(NOTE: At this part of the article, I cut a ton out. Like probably 10 huge paragraphs. It’s the story of when I wrestled Brad Helgeson at AAU State in 4th grade. I felt as if the article was becoming way too much about my dad, brother and I and less about Brad. I will post that story at another time in it’s own article. Just know that the conversations and interactions I had with a few people after my match with Helgeson made that match not only one of my most memorable ever, but one of the most significant parts of my entire life).
So I wrestled Brad Helgeson one time in my career and that was in 4th grade. That was the last time I was ever beaten out of the AAU State tournament and that was the first time I was ever outperformed by my brother, Justin in our first 4 years of wrestling and it never changed from there. That’s when Justin and I shifted and he was the more accomplished brother forever from that point on. I was in the round of 12 with Brad and got off to a lead and he threw me on my back for a 5 point move to beat me 5-4 at the end of the match. This match was a landmark in my life, for a few things happened all at once. The sibling shift with Justin was big. Also, it’s the moment that I never again questioned that my dad loved me. From that point on, no matter how angry he seemed, I knew he loved me. Dad even told me he loved me in this situation, which didn’t happen as much back then for his philosophy was that it lost it’s meaning if you said it too much. And he said this to me after he said some anger-induced hurtful things to me right after Helgeson beat me. My dad felt so bad about this afterwards that he cried. I’ve only seen him do this twice ever. That was the first time. Another thing that happened that stuck out, was two days later, he took me fishing, just he and I and we talked about everything except wrestling. That is rare as well. It was a life-changer and it was all thanks to Brad’s devastating pancake (whipover) that he threw me in to beat me at the end of our match.
And the devastation-inducing pancake he hit me with in 4th grade was not the last time I saw him hit that. 2 years later, he and I were in the same bracket again at AAU State. We were 6th graders wrestling at the B-90 Division. Coming into that year, I had lost to 2 guys coming into that tournament. A guy named Trent Allmandinger from Wilton and a guy from Bettendorf named Anthony Briberiesco. Thing is, Briebriesco beat me like 5 times that year. Every one of them were 1-2 point matches and he won every single one of them. The guy was just impossible to score on. My season that year was so “Briebriesco-heavy” that my coaches and practice partners started wearing white t-shirts with Anthony’s name on it and when they would wrestle me, they would emulate what Anthony does in an effort to try to get me to learn how to defeat him. It never worked. He beat me every time and he happened to be in my district, in which he beat me there, obviously. I don’t know how many of you remember how big of a deal Anthony Bribriesco was around that age, but he was considered a phenom. He only had one loss that year coming into state and that was at an Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Russia dual that they put on. They selected just one youth kid to represent Iowa to wrestle one of Russia’s finest and they selected Anthony Bribriesco, a guy who won state the year before as a 4th grader and hadn’t been beaten in probably years. He lost by like a point or two. And get this, the dude was only a 5th grader! He was a year younger than me. Oh that used to frustrate the hell out of me. He was so good. When the brackets came out, I saw that Brad was likely going to face him second round. So the next time I saw Brad near the holding area, I approached him and said, “this kid tripods from the down position. If you snake your leg in there and turk or tilt him, you can put him right to his back.” Brad smiles and said, “cool, thanks Swafford!” I walked away thinking, “ha! Helgeson remembers me.” Not that I had anything against Anthony. He was a nice guy and I liked him. I was just so sick of wrestling him and didn’t want to wrestle him again in case I made the finals. After pinning my opponent I walked past the mat where Helgeson and Briebriesco were wrestling and I saw Helgeson do exactly what I told him to do and was leading the entire match and to cap it off, he hit Anthony with that same pancake that he hit me with 2 years before. He dominated him. One of the biggest upsets of the entire tournament. It was pretty neat. Helgeson could freaking wrestle. All the way throughout high school he was just super talented.
Here is a pic of Brad and I on the podium in 6th grade. He placed 2nd, I placed 3rd again:
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
-I had a lot of older cousins, so the decision was pretty easy for me. I won my first tournament when I was 4 or 5, so I was hooked from the beginning.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? How did they do?
-I will try not to forget anyone. My uncle Steve Eidness wrestled at Osage and was an All-American at NIACC. My cousin, Jeff Helgeson was a state qualifier. Tim Helgeson was a state champ and placed 6th. Josh Eidness was a state qualifier. Justin Helgeson was a runner-up. Chris Helgeson was a runner-up, placed 3rd and wrestled at UNI. Dan Helgeson was a runner-up. My nephew Tyler Helgeson just finished his HS career at Lake Mills and was a 3x place winner. Jeff’s boys Caleb is a junior a Johnston and is a 3x place winner, Owen just placed 5th as a freshman. Jacob is a 7th grader and has won 4 AAU state titles, I believe. There are many more Helgeson’s that will be coming up through the youth, including my 2 boys; Mason who is in 3rd grade and Reece who is 4 years old.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I placed 2nd in 6th grade, 7th in 7th grade and 2nd in 8th grade. Rivals that come to mind are Tyrone Oulman of Riceville, Matt Doebel of Clear Lake and Brett Iverson of Eagle Grove, just to name a few.
What was your record in HS?
How did you do at state?
6th as a junior, I took 3 tough losses at districts in the years I didn’t qualify for state, the kind that you don’t ever really get over, but hey that’s the sport of wrestling.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
I would say trying to put some of those tough losses behind me was definitely a big challenge for me. Also cutting weight was tough the first couple of years.
Who was your most influential coach?
Obviously, my HS coach Jamy Ball was my most influential coach. He was a great coach. My uncle, Steve Eidness was a huge reason for my success in my youth days. He would do anything for all of us Helgeson cousins. He hauled us all over the place every weekend. He deserves a ton of credit. I just think its funny that an OSAGE wrestler had such a big impact on the Helgeson’s and Lake Mills wrestling.
Was your team competitive in HS/College?
Yes, we were very competitive, especially in duals. We finished 2nd at State Duals my freshman year, 3rd my sophomore year and won it all my junior year, which is still the only team state championship in Lake Mills history.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Jeff Helgeson was the oldest Helgeson and he was a stud. He was on some great teams. I loved watching all those guys. Obviously, Mike Issacson ( 2x state champ), Scott and Jeff Pederson, Cory Schriever, Chad Cavett, just to name a few. Lincoln McIlravy was my favorite college wrestler growing up. I even got pretty good at his famed “boot-scoot.” Lol…
Who are your current favorite current wrestlers?
How can you not like Spencer Lee? That kid is unreal. Also; Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake, and DavidTaylor on the international stage. HS wrestlers would be Cael Happel, Robert Avila, Drake Ayala, Cullan Schriever, etc. They are all gonna be fun to watch at the next level.
What was most upset you ever felt after a loss?
Like I said earlier, I had a few heartbreaking losses, but one tops them all. My sophomore year at districts, in the match to go to the state tournament I was up 4-0 or 4-1 with 15 seconds left and he head-locked me and pinned me. He would go on to get 2nd at state that year. I was crushed. I still, to this day have never watched the match on video.
What was your best wrestling memory/accomplishment?
Finally getting down to Vets and placing my junior year was big. Also winning a state dual title the same year was big. We felt like we should have won State Duals the two previous years, but fell short, so it felt awesome to finally do it and get a title for the town and coaches. Our coaches deserved it more than anyone.
Who were some of you most notable competitors in high school?
I had some good battles with Ross Kuper of Osage.
Who was the fiercest competitor you ever faced?
Bloomington Kennedy HS (MN) came down to our invitational my junior and senior year and both years I wrestled a kid by the name of Jamaal Tidwell. I had never wrestled anyone that was that fast and strong. He beat me up pretty good, I believe 7-0 my junior year and something like 17-8 my senior year. He was a 2 time state champ in MN and went on to wrestle at Augsburg.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
My buddies and I wrestled in a few off-season tournaments, but it was mainly seasonal.
Did you wrestle after high school?
No, 13/14 years was enough for me.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I was definitely not a brawler. I was pretty quick and had pretty good technique. I used a lot of low level attacks.
What other sports did you play?
I loved baseball and football probably even more than wrestling. I also ran track and played golf.
Did you have good practice partners to help push you in the room?
Brady Johnson, Justin Helgeson, Josh Eidness, David Back, Chris Helgeson, Mike Rosen, Jeremy Locke, Matt Hatland, and Keith Hebrink. All of these guys were studs and we all pushed each other.
What are your favorite sports team?
Im a big MN Vikings and MN Twins fan .
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I love to play golf and just spend time with family and friends.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling is such a tough sport both physically and mentally. It has taught me to deal with adversity and to just keep pushing forward in life.
What do you do now?
I work for Helgeson Drainage Inc. It’s a family business so I work closely with my Dad and brother. We specialize in farm drainage and excavation.
How fun is wrestling history to you?
I love it. I could talk wrestling all day.
Are you still involved in wrestling?
My wife and I moved back to Lake Mills about 9 years ago from Rochester, MN. I immediately got into wrestling and became the youth coach in Lake Mills. I did that for 4 years and have been on the HS staff ever since.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers ?
Respect your coaches, listen to your coaches, work hard and lift weights.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an old timers tournament
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Shout out to Coach Brandenburg, the current HC at Lake Mills. The guy has done so much for our program. Also a shout out to my nephew, Tyler Helgeson. His goals of becoming the school’s only 4 time state qualifier and place winner were taken from him when he suffered a season ending injury in early January. I have coached the kid since 3rd grade and have cherished every moment of it. I just wish he could have finished his career the way he wanted, but injuries are part of the sport unfortunately.