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Who is Iowa HS Wrestling GOAT?! The Case For Shane Light, Lisbon (1987-1990)

 

“Fun fact about my brother, Shane Light. He won 4 titles and was ranked first only his Senior year. People would predict him to lose and Shane always proved them wrong.”

-Ike Light (Shane’s younger brother).

KEVIN SWAFFORD: We are continuing our series on “Who is Iowa’s High School Wrestling GOAT”, and our initial focus has been on the 4-Timer state champions… as that countdown continues, we only have a few left to go so bear with us and keep in mind that all the members of this elite group are unique and “very special”, deserving of our admiration, appreciation and consideration for that title.

With that said, the number 4 has figured prominently in our quest for the GOAT, and I was thinking about that number as I was putting my thoughts down on paper over this excellent adventure… 4 state titles in 4 years is like the perfect number. It’s like that in other sports too!

There are 4 bases on a baseball field (technically 3 plus a home plate), and when someone hits a homer they touch all four in their trip around those bases with one hit that flies over the fence; it takes 4 wins in a world series for a team to be crowned world champion. There’s 4 quarters of play in football as well as 4 offensive plays to make a first down, etc. as the list goes on. There are all kinds of ways and means that the number 4 has played a part in sports and in sports history in particular.

In track there’s 4 members on a relay team, and arguably man’s greatest track running event that measures both speed and endurance is the English Mile, better known now simply as the “Mile”… It’s a race that is normally run on an outdoors quarter mile track, travelling 4 laps to reach the finish. At one time the greatest miler’s were measured by how close they came to that insurmountable barrier of the 4-minute mark, which was thought to be humanly impossible for more than 5 decades when the modern Olympics was reformed in 1894 and the first official Olympic Games started back up in Athens, Greece in 1896.

Just as man conquering space seemed beyond rational reason, the 4-minute mile was believed out of man’s reach, beyond the limits of his physical abilities or achievement.

That invisible wall, or impossible barrier as some viewed it, was eventually broken though because someone dared to believe, or in this case, dared to disbelieve what the naysayers were saying… the impossible was finally accomplished in May of 1954 when Englishman Roger Bannister broke that barrier in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds!

Since then that barrier has been broken continually… as a matter of fact, Bannister’s World Record time lasted a mere 46 days when his rival Australia’s John Landy, lowered the new mark by more than a second (official time of 3:58.00). Both runners would meet up a month and a half later going head to head for the first time in August of 1954 in the race billed as “The Miracle Mile”, since both men were the only humans on earth to have conquered the 4-minute barrier. The race was won by Bannister in the last turn when Landy turned to look back over his left shoulder while Bannister overtook him on his right, and to the euphoric delight of all who witnessed the event, both men finished under the 4-minute mark in the race.

This barrier that was thought to be impossible by man to achieve has been lowered to a time of 3 minutes and 43.13 seconds, in an astounding feat of will and stamina, and now that threshold has remained frozen since 1993. It’s much like how Iowa high school wrestlers have continued their assaults on record books once that high bar of winning 4 straight championships was achieved, and have been raising the competitive bar of quality and greatness, while breaking new barriers most athletes only dream about… has now become a staging plateau for everyone else to shoot for because of the inspirational efforts of those who have conquered and gone before them.

Decades ago, wrestlers with over 50 career wins were considered very good and kids with over 100 wins were elite. Today there’s at least 20 Iowa HS wrestlers with over 200 career wins! That’s nearly 4x’s the number of career wins the elite wrestlers of the 1960’s. The bar for the undefeated mark has remained frozen since 1993 when Jeff McGinness set that bar with a 172-0 career record. Who will step up and break that mark?

Here’s a version of the “Wrestling Mile”… running stairs and laps BEFORE wrestling practice begins! How many remember running stairs piggyback… Hello?

This is where I segue to our GOAT profile subject – Shane Light of Lisbon. He was the eighth member of that elite “Quad Squad” list of 4-Time Iowa state champions in Iowa High School Wrestling history. Nailing down that 4th straight state title is a once in a lifetime achievement and he made the most of his opportunities. Light was the 2nd Lisbon wrestler to win 4 state titles, the school has produced 4 total… that’s a “Quad x Quad Squad” or a 4 x 4 in heavy duty terms!  I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead, LOL.

I told you 4 was an awesome number!

Light began wrestling as a toddler… as the Light family became deeply entrenched in Lisbon’s wrestling tradition, starting with his father who wrestled for Coach Al Baxter. “Mom says when I was a toddler I would wrestle with my stuffed animals and tear them up,” Light recalls. With his brothers and cousins to wrestle and a wrestling room loaded with top caliber kids (including previous, current, and future state champs), the Lisbon practices were a gauntlet for preparing kids to bring their best every time their number was called.

Keep in mind that old axiom – “Champions aren’t born, they’re made”… That’s a motto that’s lived in Lisbon. You can have pedigree, great family genes, but the bottom line is every competitor still has to go out and toe the line and prove it!

And as far as bringing their best? Shane Light went out and did just that, and remained humble throughout, giving credit for his success to his family for all their help and support, all of the previous Lisbon champions and the pride Lisbon has in its wrestling history as key factors as well as his celebrated high school coach Brad Smith.

Not everything comes easy, even for a four-time state champion. In the sport of wrestling there’s always adversity or obstacles to overcome. With just 14 days before sectionals his junior year Light injured a knee, which required surgery to repair. And while injured and out of the lineup, Lisbon hardly missed a beat with future state champion Brian Stuart filling in at 125 (Stuart won the 1A 130 pound class finals the following year in 1990). Long story short, before he could get back in the Lisbon lineup and wrestle at sectionals, Light – the 2x returning state champion, had to win his weight class back via a challenge match in the Lisbon wrestling room. (This is why wrestling is such a great sport and so appealing to me – no favoritism… everything is proven on the mat and earned)

Coach Smith kicked all the wrestlers out of the room. Light won a hard-fought 14-9 decision over Stewart to win back his 125 pound spot, despite tearing some of the stitches in his knee. “Brian was tough as nails and before the match Brad even told me that if you can get past this then you can accomplish anything. That really stuck with me.” Light recalled.

Things didn’t get any easier!

At districts Light was beaten in the finals, and had to earn his way back to the state tournament the hard way with a wrestle back match. Light was tossed out of bounds onto his head, hitting the gym floor, getting knocked out in that match. Lisbon’s coach Brad Smith distracted the referee long enough for Light to come to, and win the match with a big 5-point move started by a headlock. “That’s what they tell me, I don’t remember,” Light said later. That was an incident that very well could have changed history in Shane Light’s wrestling career if it had happened today with sports concussion protocols in place. Yet that’s just a momentary flash when looking at the entirety of his high school career, and having survived that almost disastrous district tournament, Light went on to prove his metal with a tremendous performance at state by winning a stacked 125 Lbs weight class, where every one of those top 5 kids had the ability to win it.

Let’s take a brief look at Light’s fabulous HS wrestling career at Lisbon in which he finished with a record of 130 wins and 9 losses. According to Shane Light, the biggest highlight of his career came his senior year when Light’s two younger brothers also wrestled in the state finals. It’s the only time in the state’s history that three brothers wrestled in the state finals in the same year.

It was a wish that almost came true as Shane’s younger brother Ike Light won the 1A 98 pound state title by decision 10-6, but brother Zach Light lost his finals match in the 1A 135 Lbs class against future Iowa Hawkeye wrestler Daryl Weber of Don Bosco (Gilbertsville) in an exciting 8-6 decision.

Having 2 brothers of my own that wrestled and being only 18 months apart, I can certainly relate to that dream… but the Light family actually lived it! They came about as close as they could get – just 3 points separated them in one match from achieving that once in a lifetime opportunity, but hey – that’s wrestling!

Shane Light is definitely one of Iowa’s greatest HS wrestlers. And he’s one of four Lisbon 4-Timer’s. With including all the other exceptional 4-Timers in this discussion, Shane’s probably not Iowa’s GOAT in HS wrestling. But think about this, at the time when he took the mat and toed the line there was nobody as fearless. He wrestled with tremendous heart and intensity, a huge motor and an unstoppable will to win on the biggest stage of Iowa wrestling. He got the job done and helped bring all that gold back home to Lisbon as part of 3 team state titles and a 3rd place team finish his freshman year. The “force” was definitely strong with this one, folks!

Along with his 4-Time state champion achievement, Shane Light was also a 4-time junior freestyle champion, a 2-time Asics Tiger All-American, a 2-time USA All-American, an American Wrestling News All-American and Runner-up in the 1990 Freestyle World Team Trials. Light was a NJCAA National Qualifier at Ellsworth Community College.

Shane Light was inducted 2002 National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and later inducted into the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018 along with Steve Hamilton, Kirk Myers and Lennie Zalesky.

We have some great video of Shane’s state finals matches – specifically his sophomore and senior seasons which just happened to be the featured matches on the IPTV Iowa State tournament broadcasts, but we also included the full 1988 and 1989 state tournaments as well (time marked so that you can go directly to his weight class), you can watch and enjoy them while making your own informed decisions on his individual wrestling talent.

Here is Shane Light in action at the IA HS State Tournament in chronological order, along with some notes from the non-featured matches that he participated in. Enjoy!

1987 IA HS State Tournament FinalsShane Light (Lisbon) vs. Ward Buster of Wapello at the 0:30:00 minute mark the 98 pound class starts the wrestling with the 3A featured classes. Buster would lead their match 2-1 till the final 24 seconds of the 3rd period, where he gave up a stalling point to tie things at 2-2 and send it into overtime with Light using his superior conditioning to cinch up a 5-0 OT victory for his first state title and launch his HS career towards that elite “Quad Squad” list of achievers!

Interestingly enough in the 3A featured match at 98 pounds, Dan Osborn of CR Prairie gave up 4 stalling points in the last minute and a half to allow his opponent Doug Black of Fort Dodge to tie their match 5-5 and send that match into OT (where Osborn would squeak out a 1-0 OT win)… Osborn had the misfortune of trying to cling to a 5-1 lead with Referee of the Year – Mike Allen who never allowed inactivity to dictate a match!

One of the takeaways that you instantly see from watching Shane Light in this video below is his tremendous “motor”. He just had absolutely no quit or slack time in his game. Constantly pressuring his opponents and wearing them down.

1988 1A 112 IA HS State Finals: Shane Light (Lisbon) vs. Matt Otten of Manley, North Central – Light’s 2nd Title! This was a huge win for Light as Otten was going for his 3rd state title, and was a 4x finalist…

 

1989 IA HS State Tournament Finals – 125 Lbs Shane Light (Lisbon) vs. unbeaten Tim Griffin of Laurens-Marathon at the 1:19:30 mark (not the featured match – that was Kent Streicher of Starmont in 2A going for his 3rd title and the state HS career wins record of 140… likewise was Shane Light going for his 3rd title who used 2 takedowns in the last minute to come from behind to win a close 8-7 match after Griffin had built up a 6-2 second period lead). Lots of great wrestling in this video!

Notes: This 1989 1A class of 125 pounders was just absolutely stacked… in that podium group you had state runner up – Tim Griffin of Laurens-Marathon (whose twin brother Todd won a title that night at 130) was 2x runnerup and state champ; Daryl Weber of Don Bosco placing 3rd; a very tough 2x state placer Shane Arnold of New London coming in at 4th; Tony Norton of Clarksville placing 5th; and Brent Lawrenson of West Harrison placing 6th…

Norton, Light, and Griffin were all 3 state champions the previous year in 1988 1A at consecutive weights (105, 112, 119 respectively). Norton would go on to place 4th the next year in 1990 at 135 as a senior. Weber would go on to win 2 state titles of his own in 1990 and 1991, and then head off to Iowa for a successful college career as a Hawkeye. Shane Arnold of New London was the wrestler who defeated Light in the district finals match 13-7 sending Light into that qualifying wild wrestleback match, Arnold would go on later to place 4th at 140 in 1991 after qualifying but not placing in 1990 due to an elbow fracture injury just 3 days prior to state. Arnold managed to win a match at state with that broken elbow before bowing out. Brent Lawrenson of West Harrison who placed 6th in this 1989 bracket as a sophomore would go on to place 3rd in 1990 at the 135 class that was won by Daryl Weber, and placed 6th again in 1991 at 140 in the class won by Zach Light of Lisbon (that class featured runner up Tim Novak of CR La Salle and New London’s Shane Arnold who finished 4th).

This 3rd state title run in 1989 might’ve been Shane Light’s greatest display of guts and shear will and effort shown throughout his high school career in regards to his performances! I remember there were a lot of folks that thought Tim Griffin would win that 125 state finals match as he was dominating kids that year and throughout the state tournament with his aggressive style. But Shane Light never panicked, used that great motor of his to advantage, kept attacking and by the third period, Light owned that last 90 seconds to seal the deal!

1990 1A 125 IA HS State Finals: Shane Light (Lisbon) vs. Matt Lundquist (Corning) – Light’s 4th Title! This video speaks for itself,,,

Shane Light’s Iowa Wrestling State Tournament Results

1987 1A 98 (freshman year)

  1. Shane Light, Fr., Lisbon
  2. Ward Buster, Jr., Wapello
  3. Matt Sampson, Sr., Avoca
  4. Jon Gilgen, Jr., Mondamin-West Harrison
  5. Bret McKinney, So., Belle Plaine
  6. Alex Malcom, Fr., Tabor-Fremont Mills

1988 1A 112 (prevented Otten from winning his 3rd state title)

  1. Shane Light, Lisbon
  2. Matt Otten, Manly, North Central
  3. Phil Morgan, Maple Valley
  4. Derek Decker, Maynard
  5. Alex Malcom, Tabor
  6. Jason Lang, Ackley-Geneva

1989 1A 125 (major stacked weight class)

  1. Shane Light, Lisbon
  2. Tim Griffin, Laurens-Marathon
  3. Daryl Weber, Don Bosco
  4. Shane Arnold, New London
  5. Tony Norton, Clarksville
  6. Brent Lawrenson, West Harrison

1990 1A 125

  1. Shane Light, Sr., Lisbon *** 4 Time State Champion ***
  2. Matt Lundquist, Sr., Corning
  3. David Stirling, Jr., Clarksville
  4. Doug Readshaw, Sr., North Mahaska, New Sharon
  5. Bill Seuntjens, Sr., Kingsley-Pierson
  6. Mark Hood, Jr., Westwood (Sloan)

Here is Shane Light’s interview from “Wrestling with Iowa

 

Here’s the link to our RTW profile interview with Shane Light of Lisbon at the Pin Doctors that was done with Shane by Joshua Swafford back in March 2020 for your further enjoyment.

 

JOSHUA SWAFFORD: It has been so fun for me to finally be able to put a “wrestler to the name” with the Light brothers. Sometimes it’s difficult to get a real grip on what someone was actually like off the mat or what their wrestling style was like on it, for anytime you hear anything about anyone, you have to consider the source. I was very young when the Light brothers were shining on the mat, but vaguely remember them. I remember my dad and uncles thought they were just incredible. If it’s one thing that I was too young too understand when I was watching wrestling when I was a little kid it was that Lisbon had a lot of haters around that time…because they were a consistent powerhouse in 1A. Therefore, it’s difficult to get an accurate grip on how things were back then by word of mouth for a guy who wrestled for a team like Lisbon, for the chances that a bias (good or bad) may influence the perspective of whoever is talking about them is much more likely.  Before kicking this site off, my impression of the Light brothers (and cousin) were that they were all undeniably awesome wrestlers and that they were these big bruiser type dudes who you didn’t want to run into off the mat out of apprehension that they would want to start some sort of a conflict with you or something. I heard these tales from fans of rival schools who never actually met any of them. I also heard an array of glowing opinions from Lisbon fans that they are some of the greatest people on Earth. When you are winning consistently, you are going to affect people’s emotions, good or bad. If you are winning consistently for a team that is also a consistent winner, this will multiply. Lisbon wrestlers at that time had both the most vocal haters in the state and some of the most supportive fans in the state. Not much middle ground.

WITH ALL THAT SAID… the main question I have after putting a bunch of Shane Light videos and articles together and by having brief interactions with him here and there is this: “I wonder if there were any closeted Shane Light fans in 1987-1990?” You know, fans that hated anything and everything Lisbon wrestling, but couldn’t help themselves from secretly rooting for Shane Light… Because seriously, after watching him wrestle as well as listening to his interviews and hearing his story about defying logic and overcoming adversity every year, how can you not like or at least respect the hell out of the guy?! He reached the pinnacle of Iowa HS wrestling when he won his 4th state title and was not predicted to win by the pundits in 3 of those years. Heck, his varsity spot was in jeopardy just a couple weeks before state when he was a Junior due to having to win the spot via challenge match against a guy named Brian Stewart who was a state champion himself the next year. So if you go by the outlook and opinions of the rankers, who generally do a pretty decent job at putting their lists together, Shane Light was technically an “underdog” in 3 out of the 4 years he won state. He was a gamer on the mat who could put people away in scrambles and had smooth technique to boot. His style was fun to watch. He was as intense as anyone when he stepped on the mat. He was all smiles and happy when he would pull off the “upsets” every year on his way to winning titles. He was polite and very nice in interviews and you could just tell that he was living his dream at the time and he knew it and was cherishing every second of it. He was also very respectful to his opponents. One of the most likable wrestlers the state of Iowa has produced.

Does Shane Light have a case for being the Iowa HS wrestling GOAT? Well of course he does, for he won 4 titles, but really it all depends on how you look at it. If you really study it closely and watch him in the flurries where he got into some hardcore scrambles with tough opponents, he was amazing. When he got in these modes where he was just flowing and letting loose, he was unbelievable. He left a nice mark on the timeline of Iowa HS wrestling history and when you add his uncles, brothers and cousin, that mark becomes a full-fledged Lions’ den. Iowa wrestling would not be what it is if we didn’t have the Light family competing in our state.

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