This one has been a long time coming. For one, I don’t do nearly enough of these for guys in the 70’s era and earlier. I just simply don’t know as much about them as I do other eras, but I’d like to change that! And will try to!
Secondly, it’s been a long time coming that I get someone from Britt (later West Hancock) for one of these considering their rich wrestling tradition. With the exception of posting Mark Sanger’s finals pin from his Senior year, the only Britt-West Hancock guy who has made the page was a wrestler named Tate Hagen, who I wrote about last year for having a great football season. Tate later went on to win state. So yeah, it’s taken me way too long to come up with at least one “Remember The Wrestler” article for them,, for if there’s any community that’s deserving of some props, it’s Britt-West Hancock. It’s one of the all-time greatest programs in state history. The school has brought home 46 individual state championships, which ranks eighth in the state. As a team, Britt brought home five state championships, as well as nine runner-up finishes and four third place finishes. Britt has 14 combined top-two finishes which ties them with Osage for fifth best in the state. Britt was the home of Iowa’s first ever 4X state champion, Bob Steenlage, who graduated in 1962.
Britt truly hit their stride in the early 70’s with names like; Brent Hagen, John Hagen, Cliff Howlett, Jeff Stevenson, Bruce Gayken, Dave Howlett, Mark Stevenson contributing for Britt teams who won back to back to back titles in 1971-1973. And they’ve had numerous guys since who have made etched their names on the ever-present, ever-growing wall of champions since, such as Pat Kelly, Ron Finch, Rick Sanger, Mark Sanger, Paul Jenn, Tate Hagen, etc. I realize I left out a ton…not intentional. It’s just a lot of ground to cover with a program like Britt. 🙂
Cael Sanderson made history by becoming the first ever 4X D1 national champion in NCAA history, but a somewhat obscure fact is that he had one loss his redshirt season. Who was it that beat him? A native from Britt…. Paul Jenn. And btw, MAYBE we can watch that match soon, for I have spoken to someone who has it on VHS. 😉
So like I said, it’s about time. And who better to learn about than one of the best to ever step on a mat in the state of Iowa, Brent Hagen… One of the all-time Iowa HS greats, from one of the Iowa all-time greatest families who came from one of the all-time greatest programs in the history of Iowa HS wrestling.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
We didn’t have youth wrestling clubs back then. I would participate in Britt’s elementary wrestling program. We would practice for three weeks and have a tournament with Britt kids at the end. I wrestled for Britt High School. I wrestled at Mankato State and UNI in college.
What year did you graduate?
I graduated in 1975.
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
My dad had a great influence on the Hagen brothers’ wrestling careers. He had a true love for the sport..
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My dad, Wally was a two time state champion for Clarion High School. My mother Mary Lois was the 1945 State Wrestling Tournament Queen. My older brother John was a four time state finalist. He won three state Championships while going undefeated his last three years. My cousin Joe Rohrer was a state champion for Clarion. My nephews Austin and Adam wrestled in high school in Wisconsin.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I only wrestled in one youth tournament in Junior High. Mark Stevenson and I won the Harlan tournament.
What was your record in HS?
My record in high school was 111-4. I lost my first high school match by fall. I lost to Dave Morgan from Eagle Grove twice and Rich Wilson from Belmond.
How did you place at state every year?
State champion as a freshman, sophomore and senior. State runner-up as a junior.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
The hardest challenge was cutting weight especially in college. I struggled a lot with weight my sophomore year in college. I weighed around 150 lbs at the beginning of the season. We wrestled 20 duals during the season . I wanted to wrestle at 126 during the season and cut to 118 for tournaments. My college coach Rummy Macias wouldn’t let me do that. Thanks to my high school coach Al Deleon we arranged that I could workout at Mankato East High School until the division II national tournament. I won the national title at 118. I think I weighed 150 for the finals.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
I was a very controlled wrestler in high school.I would never leave my comfort zone. I started to enjoy wrestling on my feet when I developed a fireman’s carry. My college career was very high scoring. My senior year at UNI I had a lot of matches where I scored 30 points or more.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
My junior year I wrestled Rich Wilson too many times. The worst part was he won the only one that counted. I enjoyed wrestling Dick Perez from Hampton.
Who was your most influential coach?
I had great coaches at every level. My junior high coach was Ron Meyer. Coach Meyer would be my workout partner on cutting weight days in high school. My college coaches were Rummy Macias at Mankato State, Chuck Patton and Don Briggs at UNI. I learned a lot from them. The man who had the most influence on my life and career was Al Deleon. He taught us technique, conditioning and mental toughness. He convinced us that we deserved to win. I was so lucky to wrestle for one of my heroes.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
I was on some great teams. Britt won state my freshman and sophomore year. We finished 2nd my last two years. I was on a Division 2 national runner-up at UNI.
My freshman year in 1972, Britt qualified 9 out of 12 wrestlers to State. All nine wrestlers placed 6th or higher.We had six in the finals with three champions. My senior year in 1975 we only had 3 wrestlers qualify. All three of us won state.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I have always been a huge Oklahoma State wrestling fan. My favorite Cowboy was Yojiro Uetake.He was a takedown artist.My brother John another hero would practice with me on our mat in the basement
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interesting in seeing?
I would like to see a dual between the North Central Iowa stars of the 70’s and 80’s against other all star teams from around the state.
Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
Dave Morgan, Paul Martin , Mark Stevenson just to name a few.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
Spencer Lee is a great wrestler and seems to be an even better person!
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
Outlaw album in college.
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
The easy answer would be my loss to Rich in the finals, but every loss sucked.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
Once again my finals lost wold be easy, but my last two years at Mankato State were tough. I wish I would of handled that better.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
I was a finalist every year I wrestled in high school and college.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
I wrestled against some great teams and wrestlers during my career. One person doesn’t really standout.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
I wrestled only during the season. I did attend a camp in summer in Albert Lea. I did wrestle one freestyle tournament after my finals loss my junior year. I broke my arm . I started to lift weights and practice more after my senior year in high school.
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
Better… darn good I think. In fact, I think the wrestler of my era would be very competitive . We had some great teams in Northern Iowa. I still remember having full c squad, b squad meets before the varsity dual. I remember our district in AA would have multiple state champions and place winners. We had a tryout at Britt between returning state champions.
Did you wrestle after high school?
I wrestled in college at MSU and UNI. I was a D 2 National champion and a two time runner-up.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Yankees and OSU Cowboys.
Did you play any other sports in HS?
I did play baseball in high school. I taught and coached at Denison High school for 32 years.
What do you do now?
I currently work at North Scott Foods in Eldridge .
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Fishing, traveling and family time.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling taught me that if you work hard good things will happen.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
I watch a lot of high school wrestling. My wife Carol and I attend Davenport Assumption meets. We live in the North Scott district so I am a Lancer fan also.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
Try to be well rounded, wrestle but enjoy other things. Try to learn the proper technique first. I would start wrestling in tournaments in 3rd or 4th grade. Play other sports, find other hobbies and enjoy your youth. When you get to high school listen to your coach!
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
I still have one match left in me.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
I have always told everyone that I grew up in the toughest neighborhood in the country. Between 1st and 3rd street SW in Britt we have had 22 state wrestling champs. I am proud to have wrestled for Britt . I was blessed to have great coaches and great teammates. Once an Eagle always an Eagle.
I have really enjoyed doing this. It has brought back some great memories. We only wrestled 10-12 duals and 3-4 tournaments. I still remember competing at the Eagle Grove tournament. You can never forget wrestling in Vets. We were lucky to wrestle in the 70’s.
Great article one of the Very best so proud of all of Brents accomplishments. He is a fan and supported the Britt West Hancock boys wrestling forever .Thanks from an EAGLE fan.
While I never had the experience of wrestling on a team with Brent, our 1965-66 team did share something with him …. Coach Al DeLeon.
In fact, that team was his first year as Head Coach in Britt and Ron Meyer was his Assistant Coach. They were a real Dynamic Duo!
One memory I retain was of wrestling practices when Coach DeLeon was the assistant to Coach Jim Craig. I watched him practice with the upperclassmen, who were no slouches, and he would back up to the wall some 10 feet away from his “opponent”, regardless of weight class, and announce how he was going to take him down and then like a flash he would do it with appeared to be ease every time! Granted, he was an accomplished college grappler, but that left a big impression on all of us.
I was not good on my feet and asked him for some help in that department and as a junior and senior I got every takedown in every match and was never taken down.
Coaches Meyer and DeLeon taught us to never leave anything on the mat and we were in such great physical condition that win, lose or draw when our opponents left the mat they knew they had wrestled and Eagle.
btw, Coach D said that he would name his first child after his first state champion but he later said that his wife would not allow his daughter to be saddled with the name “Dave”!
You, John and I were neighbors in Clarion. You used to try to keep up with us older kids playing football, basketball and baseball in our backyards. Missed you and John alot when you all moved to Britt. Though highly of your Dad, Wally, and your Mom, Mary Lois. Those were fun times as kids. Congrats on your, and John’s wrestling careers. My cousin, Les Anderson coached Dan Gable at Iowa. He told me he had his eye on you Britt wrestlers. North Iowa wrestlers are were as tough as they come.
You, John and I were neighbors in Clarion. You used to try to keep up with us older kids playing football, basketball and baseball in our backyards. Missed you and John alot when you all moved to Britt. Thought highly of your Dad, Wally, and your Mom, Mary Lois. Those were fun times as kids. Congrats on your, and John’s wrestling careers. My cousin, Les Anderson coached Dan Gable at Iowa. He told me he had his eye on you Britt wrestlers. North Iowa wrestlers are were as tough as they come.
Really enjoyed the article & pictures. I have been blessed
to have Brent, John, & their parents as friends trough the years!
Thank you for the excellent article. Sincerely, Bob Steenlage
Loved watching Brent and John wrestle. It was good times back then and I grew up in that tough neighborhood too !
Brent was a role model for many boys in Britt. He coached youth baseball and wrestling. He trained and competed like a champion. All the young wrestlers wanted to be like Brent Hagen.