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Remember The Wrestler: Keith Pearl, West Liberty HS/UNI Panthers


I can be a pretty creative and imaginative guy for the most part, I think. With that said, I can list about 576 billion things that would be classified as a more pleasurable experience than wrestling Keith Pearl. That’s not because I am a creative and imaginative guy… it’s because there literally are AT LEAST 576 billion things that are more pleasant than wrestling against Keith Pearl. It really doesn’t take much creativity to come up with 576 billion of those… Heck, I bet the lead singer from Nickelback could pull it off.  Just watch Keith Pearl wrestle for a few seconds and boom, 576 billion things, right away.  When it comes to Keith, I had to go above and beyond to prove my creative and imaginative ways.  Like designing a headgear to be custom-made for the sole purpose of preventing concussions in case I ever wrestled Pearl and did what I did best against him…got KO’d.  

Keith Pearl was a West Liberty Comet… A comet is defined as a celestial body moving about the sun, usually in a highly eccentric orbit, consisting of a central mass surrounded by an envelope of dust and gas that may form a tail that streams away from the sun. And when a comet collides with something, say a planet, there are physical consequences. To put it lightly, things get destroyed by the comet. Now, there have been several West Liberty wrestlers in which, the word, “comet” is fitting, but I don’t think it can be more fitting than it is for Keith Pearl. The guy was ruthless. He was like a battering ram. Or more fitting, he was like one of those animal rams that butt heads with each other in an effort to display and maintain dominance over the other lowly rams who can’t keep up.  You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. I wrestled Keith Pearl 4 times my 7th grade year… I got knocked cold in 2 of those meetings. Seriously KO’d… it’s probably why I am such a spaz today! And how’d this happen? Well, it wasn’t because Keith was a dirty wrestler, at all… both times this happened as a result of of both of us shooting in on each other at precisely the same time and we bonked heads. The incredible force of impact was enough to literally knock me out cold…twice. What did it do to Pearl? Haha, well, in the depths of my subconscious, I am able to pull vague memories of laying down on the mat like a sloth and looking at the rafters while Keith continued to pace around the mat and pound his own chest as if he were ticked off that I deemed myself worthy enough to dare try to shoot a shot on him. I should have known that was a bad idea!  I think it’s fair to assume that our head collisions did not do any damage to him.  After the second KO, my mom designed and created a head gear with this ugly, rectangular pad on the front of it, just in case I bonked heads with Pearl again. It was a standard black head gear with the white straps and we attached the pad to 4 straps from the side, which held it in place. Man did that thing look stupid. And to cap it off, my mom drew a pawprint and the words, “go Joshua!” on the pad.  And to think that I felt like I looked cool back then…. Well, rest assured, there is nothing that looks less cool that wearing a dorky headgear like that with the words “go Joshua!” written on it and being pummeled mercilessly by Keith Pearl.  And the singlet I wore to match it? Yeah, take a look at the icing on the dork-cake:

No, this is not lingerie that I bought from Joe Exotic. This is the singlet I wore as a 7th grader. That singlet and a custom-made Keith Pearl knock out proof headgear with the words, “Go Joshua!” Inscribed on it is how I rolled that year. Thank goodness I eventually developed a grasp of what “cool” stuff actually looks like and started wearing KC Chiefs robes! Otherwise, I would still be a huge dork! I have Keith Pearl to thank for being cured of my dorkiness.

A leopard singlet, tights, that dorky headgear… I can’t blame anyone for wanting to kick my ass at that age.. In retrospect, if I were Keith, I would want to kick my ass too! I most certainly was asking for it!!!

And to think that I was probably the biggest thorn in Keith’s side when I was a 5th grader and he was a 6th grader. I swear, he and I wrestled at every single tournament that year and I won pretty big in every match. I pinned him in 10 seconds once. It was kind of flukey, but it happened. I didn’t know that I would pay dearly for it 2 years later. I don’t know if it was an experience thing, or what, but I only lost to two guys that year; Cory Connell and JJ Butteris, so I was having a decent season, but after every time I beat Pearl that year, I always secretly hoped that’d be the last meeting for I could tell that he was athletic as hell and had potential through the roof. And he became incredibly ticked off every time, so I knew the fire was there. , I knew the potential for him to become a badass was pretty high. I would have preferred just taking my 10 cheap 5th grade wins and outgrowing him in weight so I wouldn’t have to deal with him again, but I am not a guy who gets lucky like that. Keith and I were at the same weight every year until we graduated and as expected, the dude unleashed fury on me every time we wrestled.  Just relentless. Power-shot after power shot after power shot… just kept coming at you. And don’t get me started about how frustrating it was having to ride him. I have seen him make claims that he wasn’t good on bottom and I know he is going to write something like that in his responses, but don’t believe that jazz! My best position was on top… I am the only “old-timer” who is still in the Mepo Wrestling record books to this day and that is for Single-Season nearfalls and Career nearfalls.  Every other guy from my era who held a record at one point were replaced by one of the Mepo guys from the 2010-2018 era. I am the only one still hanging on and we had like 15 matches less than them per year! See for yourself:   http://www.meposchools.org/programs/athletics/wrestling/2013-2014-season-leaders-and-school-record-holders/.   Since that was updated the last time, Brennan Swaff has since broken both the single season and career pins records, but didn’t get near the good ol’ Nearfalls records! I held the career pins record for 2 years as well until my brother, Justin broke it.  I was very, very good at riding and putting people on their backs. And Keith was one of the most frustrating people in the world to attempt to ride or turn. He was really good on bottom. He would do this thing where he posted his head in the mat on bottom, got in the tripod position and just spiraled in one direction forcing you to follow him and then like it was nothing, would stop all of his momentum and switch directions, forcing you to follow in the other direction. You couldn’t try to execute any pinning combinations or turns for you were too focused on trying to stay behind him… and the moment you got frustrated, BOOM! He reversed you. It was maddening…

I used to secretly love watching some of my friends get lit up by him when we’d play against West Liberty in football. It gave me some sort of sense of comfort that my friends, who didn’t wrestle, could finally relate to my pain with this dude. He put on some of the best hits I ever witnessed in football.  

Nicer than hell, too. I used to broadcast Mepo wrestling/softball events through something called The Dogcast and liked running in to Keith, for I believe he did some of the same stuff for an opposing school.  Keith Pearl…absolutely one of the best wrestlers from my era.  




Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

Jeff Wiele convinced me to join the Moscow wrestling club with him back in 4th grade.


Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently?

Sean Pearl is my cousin and wrestled through high school and then for 4 years at Coe.


What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I struggled for most of my youth career. I didn’t really make any noise until my 8th grade year, where I took 2nd place at AAU state. I think this was the first year I qualified for the tournament. I know you (Josh Swafford) and I wrestled almost every weekend in youth tournaments, along with Ben Kinseth and Cory Connell. It’s crazy how you go to these tournaments all over the state and you run into the same kids and get paired up in the same bracket every weekend.


What was your record in HS?

I don’t’ remember exactly, but somewhere around 125-10.


How did you place at state every year?

Freshman year I couldn’t make the lineup in West Libery. Sophomore – 5th, Junior – 3rd, Senior – 1st.


What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?

I couldn’t make the team at 112 or 119, so I tried to cut down to 103 pounds as a freshman in high school and broke when I was 2 pounds away. It was the Friday night before our first tournament of the year, and I just mentally gave up. Not my proudest moment and I remember the day like it was yesterday.


How would you describe your wrestling style?

I was never a very flexible guy during my wrestling career, so it was pretty much in your face with doubles and a high crotch. I was much better on my feet than I was on the mat. I often struggled to get away from bottom.


How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?

I really only had one guy that I exchanged wins with, and it was my Junior year. I lost to Corey Wilkens in the district finals, but I got revenge in the 3/4th place match at state.


Who was your most influential coach?

I had a ton of support over the years from the likes of Curt Diemer, Morgan DePrenger, and Rob Minnick. I remember Dennis Malone helping me a ton when I was in 7th and 8th grade.


Was your team competitive in HS/college?

West Liberty was always competitive while I was in high school. We always had a full lineup and tough kids. Unfortunately, we could never bring home any state tournament hardware.


Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?

Right before I got to high school, West Liberty had a couple multiple time champs in Ben Scorpil and Nick Marin. They got their names on the board in the room and we all looked up to that.


How crazy were some of your AAU brackets growing up?

I look back at some of the brackets that you post and it’s crazy some of the names that were in there and what they ended up doing in high school/college.


How cool is it being one of the best ever wrestlers from such a great squad in the state of Iowa?

I don’t think it about it like that. Yes, I had a good run and we had some great teams. I look at what some of the kids are doing these days with 3 and 4 time champs and these crazy stacked teams, and just can’t believe the amount of talent they are producing.


Who would you consider the GOAT HS wrestler?

I spent some time with Dan Knight while coaching with Bettendorf. Read his story and tell me he’s not the greatest Iowa wrestler. He’s a great guy and I really enjoyed coaching alongside him and his staff.


Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

Spencer Lee is just incredible to watch right now. I’ll bet he is just heartbroken right now, not knowing if he’s going to be able to complete the 4X national champion quest he was on. Kyle Dake is another that I really like watching. Was hoping to see him win an Olympic title this year.


What tunes would you listen to back in the wrestling days?

This is a tough one. I listened to whatever was on. We listened to a lot of Guns N’ Roses in the wrestling room during practices.


What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?

See me note above about my loss at districts as a junior. I remember just being so upset that I lost that match. I think I stormed off the mat and remember throwing open a door outside the gymnasium that nearly took out one of the fans walking by.


If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?

I didn’t always put wrestling as the top priority all year around. I did it during the season and then would participate in a couple camps in the summer.


What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

The moment of winning that state title is hard to beat. I remember the fans from West Liberty right on top of the mat and counting down to the end of the match. I also got the opportunity to wrestle inside of carver as a redshirt sophomore in college. I got my butt kicked and realized what it was like to be on the other side of the Iowa fan base.


Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?

I remember a match my freshman year in college against Luke Becker from Minnesota. We were at an open tournament just outside of the twin cities and he kicked my butt. He went on to win an NCAA title, so that softened the pain a little.


Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?

As I got older, I did a little more, but still didn’t commit as much as I should/could have.


How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?

This is such a tough one. I watch some of the kids today and think they are far better than we were, but I don’t think you’ll ever win this argument.


Did you wrestle after high school?

Yes, I went on to Northern Iowa and wrestled there for 3 years.


What other sports did you play?

Football and track (both kept me in good shape and helped me grow as a wrestler). I think playing multiple sports in high school is a huge advantage to staying in shape, and keeping athletes focus on their bodies.


What are your favorite sports teams?

Hawks and Cubs.


Did wrestling help you with your football game?

I think they both complement each other well. Wrestling helped me with some of the basic tackling skills, and football and track kept me in great shape for the upcoming wrestling season.


How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?

I did a bunch of coaching when I first got out of college, but now that my two kids have gotten older, I am not able to give back like I used to. I really enjoyed seeing kids progress through the year and accomplishing their goals.


How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?

I read so many articles about successful athletes that were once wrestlers. The sport provides so much self-accountability. From cutting weight, lifting weights, going to practices, and pushing yourself to the limits, this is the ultimate independent sport.


What do you do now?

I have been working in manufacturing for 15 years as a manager. Currently working for HNI in Muscatine.


Are you still involved with wrestling?

Not as much as I would like to.


Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

I cannot say enough about how much the sport has helped shape my career and personal life. As I reflect on my wrestling career, I like the saying ‘trust the process’. Thinking about all the practices, travel, tournaments, making weight, etc., all of this was necessary to get me to where I am at today.


Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?

I did one in West Liberty back in 2010-2011.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Don Yerington May 29, 2020, 4:09 pm

    I followed Keith’s wrestling career through High School and College. Really enjoyed watching him wrestle. Keith is a cousin of mine. Great kid and now a great father and husband. All around great man!

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