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Remember The Wrestler: Trent Hardin, Van Buren HS

Growing up in Mediapolis and wrestling for Mepo back in the mid to late 1970’s, we only traveled to 2 tournaments outside our SEI Conference a year… not counting sectionals, districts and state.  One of them was at Pekin, and the other was at Van Buren HS, at Keosaukua. It was one of my favorite tournaments because it was billed at the time as “The Wrestling Classic of Southeast Iowa” and for the number of state qualifiers and placers in individual weight classes that participated every year. Everyone was hungry to test themselves there because it gave you a preview of tougher competition and based on results, still lots of time to make adjustments and improve before the state tournament.

That’s where I was introduced to a Van Buren wrestler named Clint Hardin and his twin brother Cliff… I was told they were distant relatives somehow (my mom was a Hardin), and being a twin myself, it was only natural that I paid some attention to how this burly and slightly brash upper middle weight Van Buren Warrior handled himself among the likes of Sigourney, Pekin, Mepo and Morning Sun, who all had tough teams at the 167 and 185 weight classes.  Clint did alright and held his own, and I kind of lost track of “Tub” – his nickname, till a few years later when we ran into each other at a non-stop all weekend 64 team slow-pitch softball tournament in Stockport, IA.  He was the pitcher on a team called “The Nads” and it was a sight to behold at the beginning of one of their games to watch them gather around and put their hands together and yell “GO NADS!!” with all the women in the stands laughing and giggling to themselves… It was their constant battle cry. LOL

Clint Hardin went on to coach wrestling at Van Buren and was the assistant with head coach Jirak, and then later head coach of the subject of this RTW profile – Trent Hardin.

I recently reached out to Trent about doing an interview for us and enjoyed my conversations with Trent and found him to be just as humorous and engaging as his uncle – yes… Trent’s dad Randy Hardin, is Clint’s brother. Along with this rough band of Hardin boys, it was probably their dad Hugh Hardin that was the glue that held them together. Hugh was an Iowa State Trooper when I first met him and was introduced to him by my mom at the VB tournament my sophomore year in 1975. Hugh looked to be a fairly large man to me as a 15 year old 119 pounder. He was dressed in his uni and trooper hat, and a gun big enough to make Ted Nugent smile and I mean the stern sober look he had when he said hello and extended his bear paw hand was enough to set me on my best behavior wondering what I was in trouble for… till he grinned and started laughing!  Yeah he had me going, and it seemed all the Hardin’s had that ornery sense of humor.

Trent Hardin was part of the next generation of Hardin wrestlers at Van Buren. One of the things that became of instant interest to me regarding Trent’s career was the fact that he wrestled at the upper weights (215/HWT his freshman year while only weighing 193lbs, then wrestling at 215 his sophomore/junior years, and HWT his senior year) while competing at a height of only 5’6″ or so… and had great success wrestling against those giants. Being undersized, he was easy to underestimate as well, appearing to be the small fish in that deep pond at weigh in time, yet he was able to vanquish his share of Goliath’s when he stepped out on the mat.

My dad who stood at 5’4″ tall, used to tell us 3 boys that quote – “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s size of the fight in the dog”… and that was certainly true for Trent Hardin.

Trent told me that “my Dad’s most exciting win for him was when I beat Jacob Combs in the blood round my sophomore year at state to place, and that when I pointed at him and the crowd he got goosebumps all the way up his neck, because he never thought it was going to happen. Side note, before the tournament I made a deal with dad if I placed I could get a tattoo.” Even then, he was making believers out of a lot of folks in SE Iowa and throughout the state.

Hardin vs Combs at 215 Blood Round in 2004

Trent’s life story was interesting to me because I love those RUDY moments where the underdog comes through when it seems all the odds are stacked against him. He was battle tested. He was not what anyone would describe as an imposing figure for a 215/HWT wrestler but ask his or other coaches back then and they’d described him as having a tremendous motor and was a competitor with tons of heart and never quit effort. Those are attributes of a winner. That’s what helped him become a 3x state place winner and landed him in the 2006 Saturday night state finals and narrowly missing out on a title with a double overtime loss to Donovan Grove of Southeast Webster. It was his only loss of the season which ended with a record of 44-1 and finishing his career with the school record in wins at 162. That’s a solid resume for a high school wrestler today and something to be very proud of, and a bar set for some future Van Buren wrestlers to try and eclipse those school record marks.

Trent Hardin’s a great guy, bright yet humble and hilarious to talk to, a caring dad, family man, and friend. You can see by his effort in the responses from our questionnaire that he’s thoughtful and not bashful about giving credit to those who helped him along on his way.

So, without further ado – here’s remembering the wrestler, Trent Hardin of Van Buren HS in Keosauqua, IA (2003-2006) and his RTW interview!


What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?

I started out at the Van Buren Mat Club, Then Stars and Stripes wrestling club out of Fairfield. I went to Van Buren High school in Keosauqua, and one summer I would travel up to Monster USA at L&M. After High School, I went to Loras College where I competed off and on, and once competing was over, I helped recruit and coach.

What year did you graduate?

High School 2006 and College 2011 (I was a slow learner)

Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?

My dad, Randy Hardin told me that every time someone would come through the door I was instantly attacking them, so he wanted to channel my energy into a positive manner. So, my parents definitely encouraged me to give it a try, along with encouraging me to stick with it during the learning curves. (you know, the times you cry and hold your throat because the other kid who just got done whooping up on you “choked” you. Haha)

Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?

My Uncle Clint “Tub” Hardin wrestled for Van Buren and I believe was the first SQ for VB, My Brother Trey Hardin who is 2 years younger than me wrestled. Some of my favorite memories were traveling around Southeast Iowa together collecting Trophies. I would argue he was ONE of the best wrestlers to never qualify to State. (The list of guys he lost to is one of the most impressive lists I have seen) Maybe I will do some thinking and come up with the list. Trey had almost 100 wins and never won a tournament in high school, he QF for Districts 3 years.  My son Philip and I wrestle around on the living room floor and really anytime he says shake hands, then he shoots the right side, head on the inside while driving and circling, works his way up looking for the half as I am falling down. He gets so excited when we go to watch the Hawkeyes, only because they have snack and popcorn though.  I am excited for my boys to start wrestling when they are ready, until then, we will travel around watching it.

What were your youth results? Any rivals there?

I had pretty decent youth career, I think my first year I was 3-11. I got 2nd at AAU state my 6th grade year, was hurt my 7th grade year, and finished 5th; my 8th grade year at AAU I was  1st at USA and 2nd at the Topeka National Tournament.

What was your record in HS?

162- 24 with 96 pins

Freshman (35-9 with 29 pins)

Sophomore (40-6)

Junior (43-8)

Senior (44-1)

How did you place at state every year?

DNQ, 4TH, 4TH, 2ND

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

I would say in high school would be coming in as a freshman and having a lot of hungry upper classman that wanted to whoop up on me, I was nervous at first. But getting beat up on day after day made a huge impact on my freshman season. Not understanding it at the time, but that room of upper classman helped so much.

Another challenge I faced was being an undersized (mostly height) upper weight and learning how to wrestle upper weights with me having a weight and height disadvantage.  My uncle Clint who was the assistant coach 3 years and my head coach my senior year, always said that I won half my matches at weigh ins because I was a short little “rollie pollie”… and I truly believe I was looked over a bunch, and especially my freshman year and having the season I did, it opened my eyes that I could compete.

Once in a while I would intimidate myself by sizing up who I was going to wrestle. I know my sophomore year, 2 of my losses came from Todd Van Syoc from NL, maybe even 3, but going in to the super conference tournament, I prepared and prepared to keep in good position and be patient, I ended up beating him in OT for my first SEISC title – then proceeded to get my butt kicked by him the next two weeks at Sectionals and Districts, I followed him to State

When the brackets came out for state my sophomore year, I was told if I lost my first one, and won my wrestle back, I would either face the Number 1 (Dane Pape) or the Number 2 ( Jacob Combs)  That is all I could think about, and to be honest I was satisfied with just Qualifying to the State tournament. Once we got to vets, Coach Kurt Jirak pulled me aside down on the mats and told me to look around. He told me I was going to have a great tournament and I thrive off of crowds and putting on shows. “and what better place to do it than here?”

When the whistle went in the first match, I went blank and got ankle picked to my ass for 5, not sure what the score ended up being, maybe 9 to 6. I won my next match and waited to watch the quarters between Pape and Combs. If I remember correctly I believe Pape won the match in OT, thus giving Combs his first loss of the year. Combs was HUGE, and I was a 15yo rollie pollie who was preparing to take a whooping. Coach Jirak came and found me and told me I Could win this match, he told me his dream of becoming a state champ just ended and his overlooking you. I stayed in good position and waited to score, and I ended up winning the match 3-2. I then won my next 2 matches and lost for 3rd place. Loss-won-won-won-won-loss.

Another quick little story was my Junior year at sectionals, and districts. I followed Jon Mcloughlin to State. Jon was one of the strongest guys I had ever wrestled, it was difficult to grab onto chiseled granite. He stayed in good position, was in pretty good shape, and strong as hell. We get to state and of course DRAW Ben Lehman ( 05 state champ, 06 runner up) and Kyle Slifka ( 3rd in 05 and State champ in 06 at Hwt 2A) I had the pleasure of wrestling Ben for my 1st round match getting man handled and then doing what I did the year before winning 4 straight matches to wrestle for 3rd again, this time I wrestled  Kyle Slifka and lost badly. I want to say 21-7. Both Ben and Kyle were men amongst boys, and I believe both went on to play college football, as did Jon.

How would you describe your wrestling style?

I could usually wrestle and adapt to any style I needed to, I didn’t like banging it out as much as some guys, but I enjoyed hitting slick take downs and using my quickness and athleticism to score. I liked to control the pace of the match, I liked to score points, and look for the pin. However, I wish I would have ended a few matches when I had my opponent on their back. I liked to create movement and get my opponents out of position, scrambles!!

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

My freshman year I believe 3 of my losses came From L&M standout Hwt Jacob Paul, and I finally got him at conference our Freshman year. I believe I lost to him first round of the SIESC, and then we met up for 3rd place. I wrestled him for the SEISC Title my senior year too. I think I was 2-3 against him. Todd Van Syoc, I was 1-3 against; Thomas Hess who was a 2-timer… I was 1-1 against him. Jon McLaughlin and I had some back and forth matches and I think I was 1-3 against him as well. These are really the only ones I can think of right now.

Who was your most influential coach?  And can you expand on how they inspired you?

During youth it would have been Coach Burgraff, Jeff Courtwright, and Troy Sealy from Star and Stripes. They all were patient and took their time in their own way to help me develop. In high school Coach Kurt was my head coach and he was able to get into my head and help me believe I could beat anyone, help me with game plans, he knew how to get the most out of me. And I owe my College Education and coaching opportunities to Hall of Fame Coach and Legendary Coach Randy Steward. He coached at Loras College for 23 years and now is the head Coach down in Georgia at Sonoraville  High School, where he has coached the Phoenix’s to 3 State Championships the last 3 years. Coach STU made sure I went to class, did my work, was doing ok, and was my dad away from home. He truly cared about us, made sure we were learning about life, learning more techniques. A few things I will always remember from coach was to trust the process, to BUY IN, and it’s all about the grind. I owe him so much for helping me become the man I am today. Love ya, Coach.

Was your team competitive in HS/college?

My freshman year of High school we had a good dual team. In College we had some good wins, but we did struggle a lot. The DUHAWKS are on top of the rankings now though!

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

Honestly, I don’t remember who I actually looked up too growing up besides the High School guys. I would like to give all the upper classman from my freshman year a shout out, you guys made me better. After the initial beatings I took, I was fully accepted as one of the guys. You guys pushed me to do a little more each day. I would like to give a special shout out to Van Buren stand out Niles Mercer, He held me accountable and took me under his wing. When I was having a rough time in my personal life my sophomore year, he stepped in like a big brother. Would come wake me up in the morning and we would get a lift or a run in, made sure my head was on straight. I had a great year, and a lot of it was to do with Niles. When we got up to Vets that year, (he had taken 3rd the year before and I believe his only loss was against Mack Reiter). He helped me get focused and in a routine, to plan out the day.

Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?

Jay Borschel – lots of talented wrestlers to pick from!

Who are your favorite current wrestlers?

I enjoy watching Spencer Lee compete and how he carries himself.  My son has been saying for 2 years now that Batman would beat Spencer Lee. So, I am thinking we need to set this up.  I LOVE watching the current and recent Duhawks wrestle. Guy Patron, Clink Lembeck, Eddie Smith to name a few. These gentlemen were the foundation over the last 4 years to help the Duhawks become a national contender with the leadership of T.J. Miller and Trever Kittleson.  I think the D3 National Tourney is the best, so many student athletes doing it for the love of it, I truly believe the Duhawks would have won the damn thing this year.

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

Lincoln Park and Eminem haha

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

State Finals in double overtime. Ended up 44-1 that season. Donavon Grove wrestled an incredible match, and ended up riding me out in the 1st 30 second go to Win his first State Title. The rule changed the year after this.

I have only ever watched the entire match 1 time from 14 years ago. From time to time my mind will wonder and go back to that February night in Des Moines. I truly believe this was one of the most important lessons I learned.  I had a lot of heart ache and an empty feeling, but had to take time to work through it, my life goals at the time was over. This helped me to learn how to regroup and work through failures and being disappointed.  I truly believe losing my state finals match pushed me to go to college and look further into my future.

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

I would get in better shape, wrestle year around, lift, and not be as relaxed as I was. I would have not taking my time on the mat and in the room for granted. Now if I would have only been on board with my parents moving and holding me back, I would have had another year. (Only joking, kind of…)

What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?

I have a few that stick out, two of them come from my sophomore year. Winning my first SEISC Championship and accidentally placing at state by beating the Number 2 guy during the Blood round.

Wrestling on Saturday night at the state tournament and being a part of the Grand March 3 times was one of my favorite memories.

Having 29 pins as freshman

Being the only 3x place winner – Placing 4th 4th 2nd and having the ‘career wins’ record for Van Buren

How was it or what was it like wrestling at the upper weights while giving up so much height?

I think it was an advantage most of the time, being a smaller athletic upper weight I could force most of my opponents to come to my level and wear them out. I was lower than most, so it was easier to hit my shots and get them off balance. If I didn’t score early and the match went late it was a disadvantage. I usually weighed a lot less than my opponents, especially when I was at Hwt. I think I weighed 215 my senior year the day of the state finals and my opponent was 265 and at least a half foot taller, I ended up losing in double OT. The taller the opponent was, the harder it was to get out from bottom and tie ups to get to my set ups were near impossible if they stood tall and stayed in good position.

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

Donavon Grove (2timer)

Thomas Hess  (2 timer)

Ben Lehman ( 1st, 2nd )

Kyle Slifka  (3rd, 1st)

Jon McLaughlin (5th,4th) I believe

Adam Robards (5th) Maybe more

Nick Olson (3rd)

Mark Root ( Place winner Illinois)

These are the guys who gave me 10 of my 24 loses, and I think all of my other losses but 1, maybe 2 were by State qualifiers. These are the guys that stand out, I never have really looked back to see who I beat and what their credentials were.

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

I only wrestled one summer and went to Fargo – 1 point away from being an AA in cadets. I wish I could have stuck with it and wrestled at least in the summer. Thanks Coach Tom Mashek for having me as Monster USA.

I also played football, baseball, Golf and ran (not fast) track.

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

I think it would just depend on who it was and what weight. I haven’t had an opportunity to watch much high school wrestling the past decade.

Did you wrestle after high school?

Yes, Loras College. I helped coach as well. I really regret not putting more focus into the lifestyle in college.  However, I did really expand my wrestling knowledge and made some lifelong friends and brothers and wouldn’t change it.

What other sports did you play?

Lettered in football 4 year and was all district, lettered in baseball 3 years and was all conference. I also golfed and ran slow in track and threw.

What are your favorite sports teams?

Growing up it was the Miami Dolphins and Cubs, I don’t follow much now. So it would be the Hawkeyes and The Duhawks now.

What are your hobbies other than wrestling?

I enjoy cooking, doing laundry, and Dishes for my Girlfriend Lex (just kidding she keeps an awesome house and makes it home for us and our two boys Philip and Liam). I do enjoy cooking/grilling, I use to play a lot of golf and fantasy football. I enjoy mushroom hunting and fishing when I can, and traveling around Iowa and wherever else I can go to watch the Duhawks. Recently, Lex and I have been buying and flipping things to save up for something special. We have been rocking it, well, mostly her and her ability to hustle. I am just the numbers guy and the laborer.

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

When I was helping with youth programs I absolutely loved it, it was awesome to see the little’s eyes lite right up when they would get something or something would click. I am working every day to hopefully one day be able to coach again or at least be in the position to take the boys around the country competing.

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

To get up every day and grind things out, it taught me how to love and hate, it taught me how to be humble when winning and to appreciate losing and to always learn something. We can learn from winning and losing, we can learn from ups and downs, and to attack adversity. To set many small goals that build into medium goals, and use them medium goals to achieve the big goals. The most important thing wrestling has done to shape me is meeting all of my brothers and sisters along the way, each and every one of you hold a place in my heart, we have had some wonderful times and built a bond only wrestlers would understand, it’s a brother and sister hood. This is what has shaped me the most, meeting all of the incredible people and their families.

What do you do now?

I have been an activities specialist at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility for the last 2 years, before that I was a Correctional Officer for 5.5 years. I would like to give a shout out to all my brothers, sisters, and girlfriend as we all work together through this Covid pandemic here at the prison. I am proud of all of you for coming together and facing this.

Are you still involved with wrestling?

I am not, my work schedule and time with my son Philip is my priority right now, hopefully both with get better and I can branch out and get into a room somewhere close. We are living outside of Danville right now, so if there are any coaches reading this that could use some help, I would be more than willing to help when I can.

Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?

The advice I received was to stay the course and get a little better each day, there will be ups and downs just like life, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we need to get up and keep grinding it out and make our own success. Good things will happen if you show up and put the work in. I wish I would have hit the weight room harder and wrestled more throughout the year, if you have that opportunity do it, do it… if you don’t, then find a way. It will all pay off in one way or another. Be humble and make friends, they will be there for you the rest of your life. Us wrestlers are unlike anything else.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a kind, fun loving guy who loved to compete and put on a show. Someone who would help when he could and as an under sized upper weight who could move, create scrambles, and score from anywhere.

Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?

First and foremost, my parents Randy Hardin and Christie Sweat, from the bottom of my heart thank you for always supporting me, taking me and Trey all over to our events, practices, camps, making sure we had snnnnnaaaaaacccckkk money, proper equipment, and making sure we stuck it out and absorbed the lessons from all of our activities. To my sister Kalli, thank you for always being Trey and I’s biggest fan, you made sure you came to everything and having you there was a blessing and I will always cherish it. My Grandma Zina for literally keeping every newspaper article and picture and making scrapbooks and blankets, your support and love was one of a kind. The rest of our family always were there to support us and help with anything we needed. To all my Coaches and especially Coach Jirak and Steward, thank you, without you guys, I would have not only become the wrestler I was, and the man I am today. I will always be grateful for you guys.

Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.

I remember one winter Saturday my brother Trey was wrestling in a youth Tournament and he was riding his opponent and kept shaking his head in the middle of the kids back. My dad asked me, “what in the heck is he doing” and I replied, he is chinning him. I still have the visual of maybe a 7 or 8-yo just grinding his boney ass chin in the middle of a spin.

I have many stories and a ton of memories thanks to the sport (not a sport, it’s a lifestyle) of wrestling. And I encourage anyone reading this to start writing down their memories or things that happen with their kids. It will be a great gift to everyone in the future to look back and remember some of the best times. I would like to thank Pin Doctors and Kevin for taking the time to learn a little about me and what they are doing for the “sport” of wrestling. You guys are creating awareness, keeping the history alive, and building a brighter future for tomorrow.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Michael Lanman September 12, 2020, 11:02 am

    What a fantastic, insightful and entertaining write up Kevin and Trent! I really enjoyed reading this! Great description of personal experiences, competitions, coaches, and competitors as well as life lessons and personal philosophy of the ‘lifestyle’ of wrestling. The Hardin history and legacy of influence in our community is most impressive and is continuing through the generations.

  • Mary Kathryn Hart August 7, 2021, 8:07 pm

    Great article about an awesome young man using the values he learned on the mat and in the weight room to be a great family man and member of our community.

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