If you’ve been following this site, you may have felt inspired, moved, happy, warm and fuzzy at times when reading past wrestlers’ varying tales of overcoming adversity, working hard, accomplishing goals and etching their names in the history books. Wrestling has a great deal of “feel good” stories and for good reason, for wrestling is an emotional sport.
However, wrestling would not be described accurately and fully if the stories of heartbreak did not emerge from time to time. I would guess that there is more heartache in the sport of wrestling than there is joy… because the cold, hard truth about wrestling is that not everyone wins and things don’t always unravel in a manner as you feel it should have or could have at times. As blissful as an imaginary world of wrestling where everyone eventually gets their time to shine may seem, it just doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes great people accomplish great things and sometimes even the people who may rub some the wrong way rack up the accolades as well. Sometimes lazy, non-dedicated people get what they typically deserve on the mat, which is watching another guy’s hand being raised in high-stress situations. And on the flip side of that, sometimes some of the greatest, most hardworking people you may meet in your life had some of the most unexplained and harsh postseason luck and it just doesn’t seem fair at times. Sometimes it makes you want to cry for them because you know how bad it hurt them.
With all that said, it’d take a pretty cold-hearted soul to not feel bad for Ryan Ronan when he did not qualify for state as a Senior in HS. He was good enough to be there. He was good enough to do damage at state, in fact. Very well could have placed had he qualified. Tragically though, it just did not work out for him when it came to the postseason, which hit everyone who knew him directly in the feels. Everyone knew how passionate Ryan was about wrestling and how hard he worked and nobody wanted to see his heart being torn from his chest, but it happened. And to this day, I wish that things would fallen into place for him. This is a guy who has, on multiple occasions, gone out of his way to try to help me in my own life when I needed it. A guy who, if I called the shots, would have good things happen to him in wrestling… not irreversible heartbreak.
A lot of wrestlers’ careers are looked back on and retrospectively judged by one component of their wrestling resumes….whether they qualified for state and how they did when they were there. I’ve met some incredible wrestlers who did not make it to state and I am happy to have a platform where I can give these guys the props they’ve always deserved, for if you look at the big picture, the postseason shouldn’t be the only thing that defines a wrestler.
With that said, Ryan Ronan was one of the best Heavyweight wrestlers in Southeast Iowa in the late 90’s and 2000. He had a lot to be proud of in his career, regardless of whether or not he met his goals, and people need to know that about him. He was an incredibly solid wrestler and as mentioned, one of the best heavyweights in Southeast Iowa in his time and I don’t even feel as if that can be contested. That’s how I will always remember Ryan Ronan as a wrestler, and I hope you all feel the same way.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
Lone Tree Little Lions Wrestling Club
What year did you graduate?
2000 from Lone Tree but we at the time wrestled with Highland. We didn’t have wrestling at our school at that time. Four of us from Lone Tree were lucky to have Highland accept us with open arms.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My uncle Eric Wortman who wrestled at Waldorf (at the time was a two-year school) and Coe College. We would watch Iowa meets in my grandparent’s basement. He would show me some things and he was always a really good person to be around. When I was like six he gave me one of his headgears and that was it. I was a wrestler. My father would take me to Iowa meets as well. Going to the NCAA’s was really neat when I was young. Growing up my dad had every Iowa wrestling meet taped from IPTV and he would tape every high school state tournament. I mean it was crazy. We would be going through old family videos and then we would find some crazy old Iowa vs Arizona State dual meet taped right through a Ronan family Christmas. If you knew my father you would know just to laugh. (lol) We watched a lot of those old VHS tapes growing up. Back in those days going to an Iowa wrestling meet was like going to a Metallica concert as a young kid! Everyone and their dog went to Iowa meets.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently?
Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do? My brother Austin wrestled for Lone Tree High school. My sister Kylie could have been a good wrestler but she was a good basketball player. Girls wrestling had not taken of just yet back then. She was strong, fast, and very athletic. Fortunately, for her, she married Billy Dominguez from Columbus Junction and they just had a little boy Briggs who hopefully someday will wrestle like his dad. To this day my father loves wrestling but never wrestled and my mother couldn’t tell you which teams were wrestling on a live broadcast. She could tell you who Dan Gable is though. Growing up dad was the one who took us Ronan kids to everything and mom stayed home with my younger siblings.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I pretty much placed every year at AAU every year except one time I believe. I placed 2nd twice and won it my eight grade year but to this day the little kids AAU books still have it wrong my eight grade year. (lol) Justin Garvey from New London was really the local kid growing up who got the best of me growing up. Justin and I were pretty big kids. I cannot imagine how our parents kept food on the table back then to feed the rest of their families. Back then our little kid programs probably had a hard time finding club singlets for us that would actually fit us. I still to this day think the reason I wrestled at Highland in high school was because coach Jeff Weiland at Highland gave me a high school singlet to wear when I was in middle school for kids state. I couldn’t find singlets anywhere that would fit. He was a good recruiter for the sport. He knew what he was doing. He was also a really good coach. I was going to play basketball for Lone Tree and actually enjoyed it in middle school. I was no Clay Edwards from Morning Sun but had a decent shot for a big guy. There is a guy who would have been fun to watch wrestle in high school under coach Siegel had he not played basketball for WMU. I want to say he grew to be like 6’9’’.
What was your record in HS?
I want to say I had around 110-115 wins. We didn’t wrestle as much back then as kids do now. I didn’t wrestle any Greco or Freestyle at all back then. I know I had a quite a few losses my freshman and sophomore year in high school. I got beat up quite a bit. I wasn’t used to getting beat a lot when I was younger that much. My senior year Nick Cole and I reached the 100 mark about half way through the season. That was fun to do it with Nick Cole because I witnessed what he went through in his four years of high school. You should really be doing this article on him. 100 wins back then was a big deal in our school. The Nick worked while he waiting at Highland. He was behind two state champions in our lineup when we were young. He never gave up on himself. I know I had close to if not hit the 100 career pins mark while at Highland for a career. My junior year, I set the falls in a season record with 31 or 30. I was really proud of that. Highland has had some good wrestlers. I want to say that Bryce or Drew West from Highland broke that record eventually though. I had the pins record for the fastest pin but one of the west boys pinned a kid in less than 7 seconds I believe. They were pretty good wrestlers as we all know.
How did you place at state every year?
I never qualified for the state tournament. I still have nightmares about that. For about five years it was hard for me to be around wrestling or to even step in a gym.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
My sophomore year in high school I broke my nose and had to wear a mask. That wasn’t very fun. After I didn’t qualify my senior year I hit a really low spot for a few months in life. In our house we just didn’t talk about it. Plus, I knew college and football was around the corner. You have to get back up on the horse and ride it. Life doesn’t stop! You have to keep moving your feet! Nobody is going to feel sorry for you anyway! That’s wrestling! That’s life!
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I really don’t know what kind of style I had. Had a good double leg and high crotch and loved the power half and cheap tilts. I didn’t wrestle like a lot of big guys and just stand around I guess. I really wish more heavyweights would shoot! At least an outside single or high crotch. It drives me crazy watching the bigger guys just push pull each other for six minutes without shooting.
Who was your most influential coach?
At Highland I had some really good coaches. In middle school I had Gary Curtis and Pat Wood. In high school I had Jeff Weiland, Shawn Kreman, Aaron Robertson, Chris Robertson, Bobby Forseen, Jim Bartz, Duane Lawrence, Clint Jones, and Jeff Stewart. All of those coaches were Pure Gold! I am probably forgetting someone. That is the neat thing about Highland. Everyone seems to pay it forward. The generations circle through and there is a strong support system in that community for wrestling. It started with Gary Curtis.
Was your team competitive in HS/college? Never wrestled in college.
I played football in college out of high school so no college wrestling. I wrestled on some really good teams at Highland my Freshman and Sophomore years in high school. We just lacked some numbers at the time. It seemed like we didn’t have a 189 pounder for most of my high school career. Most years we were giving up a couple of weights. That really hurt us when we wrestled good quality teams with full lineups. My Freshman year we beat Wilton in a dual at Highland that was really a big deal to the community. They were ranked number 1 at the time. Wilton was stacked and had like 3 or 4 state champions in their lineup at that time. At the end of the year we wrestled them again and they beat us. Back then it was fun to wrestle teams from others schools that were good because all of the local wrestling teams would come to watch the dual meet.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
Growing up it had to be Jay Malone from Morning Sun! He most likely doesn’t know who I am but he was a HWT. I believe he was the last Morning Sun wrestler to have ever wrestled with the green and white singlet. My father, Worked with his brother or a relative at Rath at one time in Columbus Junction. I remember coming home one day and my dad had an old VHS tape with all of his matches from his senior year on the tape. I was really young when I saw that tape and I wanted to be just like him. I would watch his matches to see how he would set up his ties and how he would ride big HWT’s. That was the first time I remember seeing coach John Siegel. I didn’t know if I should run from him when I saw him in a gym or just sit right next to him the entire time and listen to everything he told his wrestlers. I have a lot of respect for coach Siegel and Bill Plein. Those two guys are legends! I still to this day have a lot of respect for guys like coach Dan Cummings, Gavin Hjerlied, Andy Milder, Tom Mashek as well as Mark Chiri from New London. All of those guys deeply care about their athletes and to this day I can walk in a gym and we all have a great appreciation for each other. All of them have also made a life commitment to our sport.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
Jeff McGinness from City High. When you dive in and look at what he did outside of our state and what he did when his coach in his school bumped him up in the lineup against others studs in Iowa it’s hard to say anyone was better than Jeff. He was a 4 timer in Iowa and he did many things outside of our state and found great success. I believe he was 172-0.
Favorite Wrestling Movie?
Vision Quest by far! I have the soundtrack on vinyl.
How would you rate the crop of HWT’s in your era compared to other eras?
I thought our area had some really good talent in the state. My senior year when I was seeding fourth at sectionals with like a 36-6 record I thought for sure who ever makes it out of this district will make it to state. Cody Wendt from North Cedar was 43-2, Ryan Fuller from Lisbon was seeded second at sectionals with a great record and Michael Husband from English Valley had like a 30-4 record as well. I believe Ryan was a two-time champ in high school. I believe Cody Wendt from North Cedar beat Fuller a couple of times that year. He was the one seed at the sectional. Ryan Fuller and I got out of the sectional that day. The previous year I had won my sectional. I really fell apart at districts my senior year. I ended up getting beat by a kid who I had never lost to and that was it. There were some good HWT’s in the area back then. Kyle Wellington from Louisa Muscatine was really good. Marshall Holtcamp from Wapello had really improved. You had Brian Ferentz from City High in the area. You had Wade McLeod from Muscatine in the area. You also had Nick McTee from Mount Pleasant in the area. Walter Kelly from West High was a challenge being as tall as he was for a lot of guys. We were all within an hour of each other. There were some hammers in the area. Really, there were some big strong HWT football players out of that group in the area.
You did not qualify for state and I know that it stings deeply, which is understandable. You were most certainly good enough to not only qualify, but do some damage at The Barn, IMO. When you see guys to this day who fall just shy of qualifying, does it make you feel for the kid? What advice would you give to someone who fell just short of qualifying?
Life doesn’t stop and it’s not the end of the world. Pete Robles from Wilton comes to mind. Another kid that comes to mind is Jordin Bakke from Lisbon he was much younger than me.
Those guys were studs and I don’t think qualified. I also think of Hitchcock from Mepo and Campbell from Mepo and Ben Sweeting from Highland! All of those guys were hammers. Yes, I feel for the kids when they don’t qualify. The entire gym does when it comes to district and sectional high school wrestling. When my brother got beat his senior year in high school and didn’t qualify it was like my heart was ripped out again! I really felt for him. When you put so much into it and you don’t reach a goal it stings but life moves on. You only get what you earn right? Everyone in wrestling makes a big sacrifice and commitment to the sport. However, when your dreams are crushed you still have to get back on the horse and ride it. Life doesn’t stop. Kids are fragile. I have really learned that through coaching kids. About 20 years ago to this year I am glad I had Aaron Robertson next to me down in Wayland in that gym after districts were over. I needed someone there for me when things didn’t go to plan. I am forever grateful to him for being there for me. The biggest thing for kids to realize is that they really can only control two things. Their attitude and effort. Those two things are crucial for an individual’s success in anything. Ultimately, those are the only two things a kid can control. When kids don’t reach their goal/goals who is there to pick them up. Often times it’s not a parent it’s the coach. That is why I get into coaching. Good coaches are so important to have and we need to keep them in our sport and not drive them out.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
Every Iowa wrestler and every Northern Iowa Panther! I still follow the Iowa Central wrestling team as well. I was an academic counselor there for about five years prior to moving back home and it was always nice working with those guys. There would be days when I would have Jon Jones, Colby Covington, Nate Carr Jr, Joe Soto, Kenny Anderson, Bradley and Carrington Banks, David Greenwald, Billy Murphy, Patrick Hunter, Phil Mandzik, Russell Weakley, Zach Covington, Brad Lower, and Joe Colon in my office. I will always remember Kenny Anderson! I don’t believe he could break the lineup at ICCC and he went on to Wartburg to be multiple D3 champion. Those were some fun guys to be around. It has been really neat to see where they have all landed at. Those kids were all Pure Gold to work with! A lot of people see some of them on TV now and really don’t know the true person I got to work with while in Fort Dodge. I know that Last Chance U has never done a documentary series on wrestling at the junior college level but they should have during those years I was at Iowa Central. I want to say that in my five years working there they won five straight titles in junior college. Working with Luke Moffitt, Troy Bennet, Justin McClintock, and Mark Rial was a lot of fun. Justin McClintock is probably the funniest guy I know. I try to follow his little boy and he is fun to watch! Lane is a hammer!
My favorite former college wrestlers were Randy Pugh, Jon Oostendorf, Ray Brinzer, John Smith, Wes Hand, Sylvester Terkay, Tom Ryan, Mark Branch, Lincoln McIIravy, and Jordan Westfall from Coe! And I am just going to say this …. Wes Hand is still a better wrestler than Brock Lesnar! Mark it down!
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
I am a baseball guy! I loved Augie Garrido. He was a long time university of Texas baseball coach and one of his favorite quotes ever is, “Free Yourself from Fear” I used this quote a lot when I coached high school baseball. When you take the fear and anxiety out of the game, then and only then, the true genius comes out in the game. So if I could change one thing it would really be just let it fly and go get it!
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school?
Nick McTee from Mount Pleasant was a guy I could never beat my junior and senior year in high school. I never beat Justin Garvey either! Those are just some guys that I wrestled more than once or twice when I was older in high school. They were tough competitors.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
Seasonal, I played four sports in high school and I was always playing baseball in the fall and spring somewhere in Iowa.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
I think you see a lot of really good guys now days go out and dominate that have super good technique and are just so many levels up from most kids. I think there is a lot more specialization with all of elite clubs. In my younger years while wrestling at Highland we had some good tough teams. Tough kids who worked hard and listened. We were all organic kids in a community that all grew up around each other. We had guys like Aaron Robertson, Tony Sweeting, and Nick Cole who all won state titles. We had guys like Nic Poch, Robert Vazquez, Justin and Chad Bell, Tommy Hahn, Brent Sweeting, Nick Cole, Tim Miller, Dustin Schneider, who were all hammers especially when they all got older and were qualifiers and or place winners. Tommy Hahn was an absolute stud! To this day one of the best wrestlers in my opinion that never won it. Ben Sweeting was really good wrestler also. Overall, I just see so many kids are at so many different levels. Today, you see kids that really have separated themselves from others. You see more pins at the state tournament as well. You also see teams with less full lineups.
What was you high school wrestling experience like?
Wrestling at Highland was an awesome experience. I would tell younger kids that when you sign up for wrestling at Highland you are signing up for being involved with a great community of people who would do anything for you! They are all supportive of every kid on the team trying to obtain individual and team goals. I just really remember they were a community that accepted a few Lone Tree kids and embraced us with open arms. I just remember it being a family/community atmosphere and the parents all looked out for each of us. The Sweetings, Hahn’s, Cole’s, Robertson’s, and the Poch’s were all just awesome parents who for the most part released us to the coaches and let the coaches coach. When wrestling season was over I don’t think the parents knew what to do with themselves. To this day they are all pillars in the community. Blue Collar through and through! That was just the generation I wrestled with. In small towns it’s fun to watch each generation participate. It’s also crazy how wrestling is engrained with the generations. In high school some teammates and I would go to Carver and get workouts in after Iowa would have practice. Nobody does it anymore but that was at that time it was pure Nirvana watching those guys workout.
Did you wrestle after high school?
No, I played football at Waldorf Junior College
What other sports did you play?
I was an All-State Baseball and Football player and I qualified for the Drake Relays and State Track as a thrower in high school.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Cubs, I am a big baseball guy, literally and figuratively!
Strongest guy I ever wrestled?
Curt Schmidgall from Mediapolis. I think he only wrestled one year in high school. He was the only guy I ever wrestled who actually benched pressed me off of his body when I had him flat on his back the first time we wrestled. I was all of 275 at that time.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
I love to catch Walleyes and go up north to fish. I also am highly involved with our local community. I serve on our city council in our town and I am on our local parks committee. I have also served on several committees and boards in higher education in the past. Coaching baseball has eaten up all of my summers. My wife Rachel and live in Lone Tree Iowa and we have two daughters in Reese and Ryland. My wife is from Clear Lake and they are a big wrestling community as well. Our children are five and seven and go to local wrestling events with me a lot. My oldest daughter loves Spencer Lee and she always wants to wrestle. So all in all my hobbies are my family, sports, and my community.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
Really good, for me it took some time to eventually get back into the sport but I have in the past helped out at our local school with the kids club and the Black and Gold club that Steve Farrell created prior to taking his current job at Waterloo West. I will get to go to my grave knowing that a did a wrestling clinic with Randy Lewis an Olympic gold medalist. That is something that was really neat. Randy is a hoot and when Randy talks nobody else talks. He is also the only person I have ever seen teach a clinic with what appeared to be CROCS on his feet. I learned more in one hour with that guy than any other person who I have been involved with in wrestling. I also helped out at Cedar Falls high school when Jay Llewellyn coached their when I was just finishing up college at and my undergraduate degree at UNI. Jay was fun to be around. I have given back to baseball more so than wrestling through coaching. A few years ago we as a team were fortunate to make it to the state baseball tournament and win conference in baseball. It was really neat to coach my former wrestling coaches kid in Spencer Weiland that year when we qualified. That was really special to me! I love to mentor kids and coach them. There is nothing better to see than a kid grow up and become a great ball player or wrestler. I am a guy who always roots for the underdog. There is nothing more important to me than watching a kid work his tail off and get rewarded.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
It’s taught me how to deal with the ups and downs in life. Maybe not so much then, but a lot now in life. I am not the smartest guy in the room but I will work extremely hard to help someone in my position and profession. I love to help people. For a few years I worked for the Iowa College Access Network. I was helping families across the state for a nonprofit help students get into college and help families figure out how they were going to pay for college. There is nothing more rewarding than helping families and students navigate this process. Especially, if they are first generation student like me.
What do you do now?
I am a Student and Academic Support Coordinator for Kirkwood Community College. I love to help students get from point A to point B. I love to help high school and college students achieve their goals for their future. I work with students who are taking Dual Credit while they are still in high school. It absolutely amazes me how many good students we have in our local area who are great Welders, Auto Technicians, CNA’s, and Construction Builders. They are the next future generation. We will need them someday. It’s important that we mentor them and provide the proper guidance and channeling for their future success. A lot of what I currently do with students are things that I have learned through wrestling. A lot of students need constant reminders on time management and strategies for that. A lot of students need motivation and a lot of students need to know you care about them. That’s a wrestling coach right? Those are the life skills our coaches all taught us. I now just do it in a different way. We as wrestlers understand that nothing is given and everything is earned. These principles apply to academia and the wrestling world when you are trying to be successful. I work a lot with students in career services and I help students figure out what they are good at so they can make life long lasting decisions. I don’t want the students I work with to tackle on a lot of student loans or debt while going to college.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Currently, I am not involved in wrestling because I am busy with life. Last year, I did help out when I could at Highland with a Heavyweight who had never wrestled before. I can tell you this. When coach Ball sent me the video of a young man winning his first high school match it meant a lot to me! I witnessed firsthand where the kid was starting from and where he ended up last year. There was nothing better to me than seeing him smile after his first win. It was like the kid won a title. So yes, wrestling is important and I love how women are getting involved in the sport. I hope the state can get that going and what coach Whitcome at Waverly Shellrock is doing is fantastic! We need that for our sport. Girls are good wrestlers! We also need more inner city student athletes participating in our sport. I really like what Ray Brinzer is doing out east in a big city. I think his club team is called the Angry Fish which is kind of funny. Although, he is a hoot himself!
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
“Do it Anyway” You will be uncomfortable at first but you will progress. Wrestling is really perfect for any kid no matter their size. I had the privilege to meet coach Jim Miller while working at Iowa Central. He has a quote he uses with his wrestlers and it goes like this…. “Do it Anyway”! After meeting coach Miller I could tell why he was so successful at Wartburg as a coach! That man is truly someone very special.
Advice I would give to parents?
I would really encourage parents to take a step back and release their kids to youth coaches. So many times I have shown up at a little kid tournament and you see parents living their lives through their kids. When parents are going nuts on an official it gives our sport a black eye. Don’t be that parent! As a parent, understand that your kid is now driving the car and not you. Find a youth coach you can trust and stick with them. Your wrestlers experience is not your wrestling experience. Let your kid get in the drivers seat and drive the car down the path they want to go down. Trust the coaches and release your kid to them.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament? Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
Not a chance! I wouldn’t make weight. You are not going to find me in a wrestling singlet anytime soon! Although, Jim Drain did give every old timer hope and encouragement with what he did a few years ago. I did go to an old timers tournament about 15 years ago and I watched Eric Lee wrestle. That was awesome! Eric had a group of about 20 fans there that day and they all were very proud of him. I still think Eric got paid out that day to wrestle from his fans but it was so funny to watch. I wanted to see Nick Pugh wrestle but that didn’t happen. I want to say that that day the Lone Tree first responders were very busy helping wrestlers with injuries.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories?
I remember I lost to Nick McTee from Mount Pleasant one time and coach Kreman had to come and find me somewhere in the school behind a locker room. I didn’t even know where I was at in the school. After I gathered my thoughts and went out to the awards stand it was too late to receive my medal and everyone had basically left. Coach Kreman was not happy and I was upset at myself for disappointing him. Then, I ran into my father who barely ever said anything to me after wrestling match. That day he did! He had some things to say mainly about sportsmanship! He told me that you always get your medal period! I was being a big baby! A few years ago Nick McTee and I were messaging each other. The first thing he brought up was “Hey Ronan, you remember that one time you forgot to come to the podium at Wapello” Yeah Nick, I still remember that.
Big thanks to the Cole family who helped me a lot my entire career!
Do You Have Any Wrestling Trivia You Would Like To Share?
It’s funny, in high school I was a Lion, Raider, and a Husky. Think about that for a second. Kind of crazy to have three mascots in high school.
In 1998, who won the 125 pound SEISC JV tournament finals at Notre Dame HS? Future state champ, Nick Cole of Highland (Soph) or future placer Joshua Swafford from Mepo (Freshman).
As I grow older and life keeps plugging away I look back on wrestling and I just think of all of the great people I have met through the sport. When I show up to a Highland meet or a meet in Lone Tree it always brings back good memories. However, it’s the people in the sport who bring each other back to the gyms. There is not a better sporting environment to be around than a wrestling tournament. We all look forward to that one famous phrase in our long Iowa winters and it is “wrestlers, clear the mats please, wrestlers, clear the mats”