I’ve mentioned several thousand times by now that I went to Mediapolis HS and was in the graduating class of 2001. Now, if someone were to mention something to me about a guy from out of town that one of the girls in my grade used to date in HS, there’s a 99.9% chance that the first image that would pop into my head would be of some dude sitting at a table at a game or Prom or something with nobody to talk to, appearing as if he is bored out of his mind and anxiously waiting to leave whatever activity or function they accompanied their Mepo girlfriend to. The reason being, generally, guys who dated girls in my grade were more or less treated like they didn’t exist by the guys in my grade. Mepo (at least in my grade) was pretty stand-offish to new people. They weren’t mean to them, but it surely wasn’t a priority for anyone to go out of their way to meet and/or get to know them either. I don’t think half my classmates even noticed that these guys would be left out as much as they were, for I think with Mepo being such a small, tight-knit community, most of them were so used to not meeting new people, that when they were around new people, it felt awkward…so they ignored them. And don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not “Mr. Holier-than-thou” when it comes to this. I didn’t go out of my way to make these guys feel more comfortable at our functions either. And I did notice these people being left out. And why didn’t I go out of my way to include them? Usually it was because I just didn’t feel like it and had my mind on other things. So yeah, I’m not trying to proclaim myself a saint here. And to add another component of awkwardness to everything, the way my graduating class socialized with each other was heavily based on a plethora of “inside jokes,” and if you “got” them, great! For some of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life were classmates of mine with their patented “inside” jokes. However, the chances of some “new guy” to come to any function and hang around my classmates and have the slightest clue as to what on Earth they were talking and laughing about, was pretty slim. As I mentioned, 99.9% of these guys seemed to be bored out of their minds at any class function of our’s and that percentage would be an even 100% if one of the girls in my class hadn’t dated a guy from the opposite corner of the state named BJ Strandberg.
So during my Senior season, a classmate of mine, my 2nd cousin, in fact, started dating a guy named BJ from out of town. To be more specific, BJ was from way, wayyyy out of town. From Storm Lake, IA to be exact which is on the Northwest part of the state. With Mediapolis being located in the Southeast part of the state, there were hundreds of miles separating these two communities. When I first heard about this new couple, I only knew that the guy’s name was BJ, but hadn’t yet connected the dots that it was actually Storm Lake state placer, BJ Strandberg. I had been well-aware of BJ Strandberg for a while by that point because the man was an absolute machine on the mat and of course I followed everything closely back then as I do now. It wasn’t until he attended one of our class functions for the first time that I was able to put it together. I immediately knew who it was the moment I saw him sitting down with his girlfriend across the room. Now since BJ was a wrestler, I actually did want to talk to this guy. My initial thought when I saw him was to come up to him and try to shamelessly, yet slyly try to find a way to recruit him and his family down to Mediapolis, for I knew that he had recently graduated, but had a younger brother we could use in our upper-weights. Before I could even devise a plan to try to recruit BJ’s family into Mepo, he did something which was unheard of for “out-of-towner,” boyfriends who dated our female clsssmates….He approached the table I was sitting at and initiated conversation with me first. This was a total 180 in comparison to how these guys usually behaved… Usually an “out of towner” would be sitting st a table, fighting off sleep after being there for 30 seconds. Not BJ Strandberg. He came right up to me and introduced himself, for he also knew who I was from wrestling and I talked to him for probably 30 minutes. He was one of the most friendly and personable people I had met in a long time and I wasn’t alone in thinking that, for BJ seemed to be able to converse with everyone in my grade about anything… he even seemed to understand our “inside” jokes. I never saw any “new” guy fit in with my classmates as effortlessly as BJ was able to. And it wasn’t because he was fake or good at “BS-ing” either. He was just a genuinely nice guy who could talk to anyone about anything and it didn’t hurt that he would remember everyone’s name after hearing it the first time and wouldn’t forget it. He was an incredibly impressive person. An absolutely impossible person to not like.
It was a lot of fun having BJ around the Mediapolis community for the limited amount of time that we did. And the amount of time we had him around was limited, not because our he and our classmate broke up or anything… No, it was because towards the end of our Senior year, we were given some of the most tragic news that I recall ever hearing in my entire life. BJ had gotten into a tragic car accident and had passed away. I first heard about this at church and a lot of people, including myself were very shook up by the news. I just couldn’t believe it and couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that out of anyone this could have happened to, it happened to this undeserving man who was just beaming with positivity and obviously had limitless potential in life. It didn’t seem right and really, it still doesn’t. This was an absolutely devastating loss for many people.
So almost a year had passed and around came the 2002 state wrestling tournament. Mediapolis had a good year that year. We sent 3 guys to state and all 3 placed. We even had two state finalists/one state champ…my brother, Justin won state at 2A 125 and Chad Hutchinson was 2nd at 2A 130. Tons of Mepo fans came to watch/support these two. Most of the Mepo fans in attendance were “casual” fans. Not die-hards and generally speaking, when the last member of the team wrestles their last match, the casual fans tend to clear out of the stands and start heading home. In which with our last wrestler being Hutchinson at 130, it looked as if our casual fans would be clearing out before the finals were even half way over with. However, and I’ll never forget this, the Mediapolis fans in attendance all seemed to have an understanding that year that they weren’t going to go home immediately after Hutch’s finals match… because if they were to do this, they would miss out on another important match that they all wanted to see…which was BJ’s brother, Ben Strandberg’s finals match at 2A 189. I don’t know if Ben ever met very many, if any Mepo fans before that weekend, but the Mepo fans were clearly invested in how his weekend was going. And the majority of Mepo fans stuck around all the way until his match, in which they outwardly cheered on “BJ’s little brother, Ben.”
To this day, it amazes me, the positive impression BJ Strandberg left on every single member of the Mediapolis community that was fortunate enough to meet him. And after getting to know Ben a bit, it has been a cool realization that he seems to have a personality that’s a lot like his older brother. Ben is one of the coolest and personable dudes you’ll talk to. He was a warrior on the wrestling mat and is currently a great leader to the wrestlers that he coaches. And he’s multi-talented, to boot. He owns and operates a graphic design business called “Strandberg Design,” which is among the most popular graphic design companies in the Iowa Wrestling community.
The Strandberg family… You’ll be hard-pressed to find better people.
What clubs, schools, etc. did you wrestle for?
Storm Lake High School 98-2001
Emmetsburg High School 2001-2002
University of Nebraska-Omaha 2002-2005
Buena Vista University 2005-2007
I did a short stint with the Golden Eagles and Coach Massey after my junior year before moving to Emmetsburg.
What year did you graduate?
High School 2002
Who or what encouraged you to give wrestling a try?
I remember bringing home a flyer from school in 2nd grade and my brother B.J. and I decided to give it a try. Once we liked it, our dad made sure to get us as much mat time as possible.
Do you have any family who wrestled or wrestles currently? Parents, children, brothers, etc.? How did they do?
My dad, Jerry, wrestled a little in high school. My two brothers wrestled in high school and college. B.J. was a 2x State place winner for Storm Lake and wrestled at Buena Vista. Brad spent some time on varsity at Storm Lake High and wrestled for a season at Buena Vista. My son Charlie is in 3rd grade and just getting started with the Earlham Wrestling Club. My 4 year old son will start going to practice this coming year.
What were your youth results? Any rivals there?
I qualified for AAU from 4th-8th grade. Placed 7th in 4th grade and 8th in 8th grade. A few rivals would be Ben Haywood and Nick Ohrtman.
What was your record in HS?
I would bet half of those were to Ryan Sturm of Emmetsburg/AR. Spent a lot of time trying to stay off my back wrestling him as a Freshman and sophomore. Now that he is a physician I should have him check out my shoulders.
How did you place at state every year?
I qualified as a freshman and placed 2nd as a senior.
What were some of the most notable adverse challenges or moments you experienced in wrestling and how did it turn out?
My freshman year of college I qualified for the DII Championships and didn’t pass skin checks due to a cold sore. My team went on to win the National Championships, which was awesome, but it sucked that I didn’t get to step on the mat.
I qualified for the State Tournament as a freshman and didn’t go back until I was a senior. I even held the top ranking my Junior year for awhile. In the end those losses made me better.
How would you describe your wrestling style?
Consistently attacking. I won a lot of matching on conditioning. In high school I was fairly one dimensional with carry/kelly and an arm bar. In college I had a lot of great coaches that taught me misdirection, situation wrestling, and how to scramble.
How many guys in high school did you go back and forth with or exchange wins with?
The most notable would have been Travis Hinners from Emmetsburg when I was a Junior and Nate Buys from Western Christian. Travis and I ended up 2-2 at the end of that year. I took the first two and he beat me in the regional dual and district semifinals. He went on to win State that year. I lost in the wrestleback to Jacob Brosamle.
I beat Nate a few times early in high school and then he beat me pretty bad the first time we wrestled my senior year. I was able to pin him in the Lakes Conference finals and beat him at districts. Nate was tough. I am pretty sure he lost the first round at state and wrestled back to 4th. Our last match together was in college and he beat me in another close one. Pretty sure he ended up a JUCO Runner-up and then a 2x DII All-American.
Who was your most influential coach?
I couldn’t narrow it down if I wanted to. I had the pleasure of wrestling for Ty Seaman (Storm Lake), Keven Besch (SL and BVU), Bob Kenny (Emmetsburg), Bob Rothler (Emmetsburg), Tony Stubbs (Emmetsburg), Mike Denney (UNO), Ron Higdon (UNO), Jason Brilz (UNO), Chad Wallace (UNO), Zac Dominguez (UNO), Zach Stalder (UNO), Mark Schwab (BVU), Pat Wilsbacher (BVU), Jamie Taxted (BVU) and Sevond Cole (BVU)
I know that is a big list but all of them played a role in my wrestling career. I have also taken something from every one of them when it comes to how I coach and run a program.
Was your team competitive in HS/college?
My high school team won the individual State Championships in 2002 and placed 3rd at State Duals. I was a starter for two NCAA Division II National Championship teams at UNO and BVU placed 5th at Nationals in 2007.
Who was your most influential wrestler that you looked up to growing up?
I spent a lot of time going to local high school wrestling tournaments as a kid in NW Iowa. I remember looking up to Steve Wilbur (Storm Lake), Scott Kauffman (Emmetsburg), Justin McAtee (Storm Lake), and Luke Moffitt (Estherville). I also spent a lot of time looking at Stacey Rice’s name on the Storm Lake wrestling room wall.
I have been an Iowa Hawkeye wrestling fan for as long as I can remember. My dad took me to the D1 National Tournament every year. My favorites to watch were Doug Schwab, Tom Brands, and Terry Brands.
Who would you consider the GOAT Iowa HS wrestler?
Are there any wrestlers you’ve seen, past or present that you would compare your style to?
Not that I can think of. Not that I was all that special. I personally wouldn’t coach anyone to wrestle like I did. I spent a lot of time in a front headlock trying to get my kelly to work. I am sure this drove a lot of my HS coaches crazy. I had success with it but I probably should have just circled up.
What are some interesting hypothetical matchups between guys from different eras that you would have been interested in seeing?
College/Freestyle – JB vs Smith, Gable vs Lee, Sanderson vs Nichal, Banach vs. Steveson.
High School – Mark Schwab vs Kerber
As difficult as it may be to put into words, how would you describe the impact that your brother BJ had on you as a wrestler and overall person?
Being two years older than me, BJ was the wrestler I looked up to the most. He was a multiple time AAU State Champion and a 2x State place winner. BJ was hard nosed on the mat but was extremely nice and likable off the mat. We were just starting to be comparable in size when he passed away. I wish I would have had more time with him for so many reasons in and outside of wrestling. I know we could have made eachother a lot better. I think a lot about the different paths I would have taken if he would have been around. I had some great experiences going to Emmetsburg and UNO but nothing would have compared to having more time with him. When you experience that kind of loss at a young age it can be very hard to process. I used wrestling as an outlet for that.
Like a lot of siblings, we spent a lot of time together as kids. We were wrestling around 100 matches a year from 4th grade to high school. This involves a lot of road time. We spent most of our summers working construction for our dad and as much time as we could on the lake skiing. I can only hope that my three kids are as close as my brothers and I were. After 20 years, I still try and live life in his honor. Wrestling was our greatest passion together and I do my best to give back to the sport that made us so close.
What got you started with Strandberg Design? How long did it take you to become as good at it as you are?
I started designing graphics and doing highlight videos to promote my team at Sibley-Ocheyedan. The NWCA had a competition called The Best of Brands, and I thought it would be fun to try and get S-O recognized nationally. In the three years that we entered it we won for best team poster, best highlight video, and placed 2nd for best overall social media presence. After that I started getting messages from other teams to design their posters. Kids started reaching out for commitments and achievement graphics. Then I started getting calls from clubs and colleges looking for graphics. I have designed graphics for IAwrestle events, the HWC Showdown, and even a handful of book covers for Craig Sesker. It took a lot of practice and youtube videos to figure things out.
What are some coaching philosophies that you have absorbed from your coaches at Storm Lake, Emmetsburg, BV, etc. and which philosophies/tactics have you implemented into your own coaching game?
I try and run my program like Mike Denney. That program really felt like a family. He focused on clean values and comradery. Coach Denney also surrounded himself with great people. I have been lucky enough to do the same as a head coach. A lot of great dads and assistant coaches have helped me along the way. I build my practices off of Bob Kenny and Mark Schwab. The hardest practices I ever went through were thanks to those two. It must be an Osage thing. Coach Kenny was great about developing an individual’s technique rather than making cookie cutter wrestlers. I learned a lot about situational wrestling from Coach Schwab. Also, I have never met anyone that can compete with him when it comes to the mental side of wrestling. That was the difference maker for me my senior year of college. All three coaches were extremely positive. I try and bring as much positivity into my coaching as possible.
How would you compare the emotions/feelings experienced from accomplishing wrestling feats as a competitor compared to coaching an athlete who ultimately ends up accomplishing their goals?
There is so much more that goes into being a coach than being an athlete. That is why it is so much more rewarding to me. As a wrestler it is hard to focus beyond the wins and losses, but as a coach there are a lot of little moments involved. I have had the opportunity to coach some great high school wrestlers. I have had a few make the State Finals and one win a Pan-Am title. Those were great moments, but I get just as excited to see a wrestler win his first match or make his first State Tournament.
Who are some Iowa HS wrestling guys from your era that you have an immense amount of respect for?
JD and Jacob Naig were two of the hardest working wrestlers I ever had the pleasure to be around.
Jacob Naig, Dustin Finer, and Maury Noonan’s run on the backside of the State Tournament in ‘02 locked up the team title for us. I have had people through the years give me credit for this. Naig and Finer were defending champs. Noonan has to go down as one of the best wrestlers to never make a final. That is not an insult, he just always had one of the toughest brackets. All three wrestling back to 3rd shows the kind of people they are.
Nick Ortman was an awesome training partner. We went back and forth in grade school so it was awesome making the finals for the same team.
Other teammates that come to mind would be Paul Reedy, Robert Struthers, Tony Webker, Mark Hobart and Josh Ludwig. I have a ton of respect for all of those guys.
Outside of my teammates I had the opportunity to watch and train with a lot of wrestlers at Fargo camp. Here is a list of a few that I always enjoyed watching and being around: Paul Bradley, Grant Turner, Corey Kalina, Gabe Rostermundt, Dustin Hinchberger, Wade Satern, Aaron Wernimont, and Ryan Fuller.
Who are your favorite current wrestlers?
Eierman, Lee, Kem, and Yianni. New to my list is PARKER KECKEISEN. That guy has a tank.
What music would you listen to back in the wrestling days?
System of a Down, Godsmack, Breaking Benjamin, Tim Mcgraw, Disturbed, Lincoln Park, Garth….
What was the most upset you ever felt after a loss?
State Finals. I was tied 5-5 and got pinned by Clint Sellers with about a minute left in the match. Gotta keep that head up with a whizzer. Lesson learned. I have to give Bob Kenny credit here. I think it hurt so bad because he made me believe I couldn’t lose.
If you could go back and change one thing about your wrestling career, what would it be?
A win in the State/National Finals would be nice.
What was your best wrestling memory or accomplishment?
I had three falls, four if you count getting pinned in the finals, at the State Tournament. When I made the finals in college I was unseeded.
Greatest memory would have been wrestling on the same team as my brother.
Who were some of your most notable competitors in high school? College?
High School – Ryan Sturm, Travis Hinners, Mark Vanoort, Nate Buys, Paul Bradly (freestyle), Tyler Babb, Jacob Brosamle, Rodney Grap, and Roger Kish (freestyle).
College – Jake Rosholt & Sean Stender (wouldn’t call these matches competitive), David Zabriskie, Drew Anderson, Ryan Phillips, Akeem Carter, TJ Miller, Jeff Selvester, Tim Boldt, Josh Janousek, and Nate Buys.
Did you wrestle all year or was it seasonal for you?
How would the guys from your day stack up against the guys today?
I think we were a bit more hard nosed in my day but with the club and easy access to technique online the sport has evolved.
Did you wrestle after high school?
Yep, UNO and BVU
What other sports did you play?
I played football and summer swim team.
What are your favorite sports teams?
Always been a diehard Hawkeye fan but I cheer for all our in state wrestling teams. I married into a Chiefs family, so I can be seen in red from time to time.
What are your hobbies other than wrestling?
Graphics, photography, fishing, and anything else I can do with my family.
How good does it make you feel to give back to the sport?
It’s what makes me tick. I have had a lot of great coaches and I strive to be like them.
How has wrestling shaped you as a person to this day?
Wrestling has opened a lot of doors for me. It is what sent me to college and part of the reason I have a job. It has given me life long friends and helped me develop into the person I am today.
What do you do now?
I will be starting a new teaching and coaching job in Earlham this fall. Go Cards!
I also design graphics as a part time gig.
Are you still involved with wrestling?
Yep, Earlham will be starting a new program this year. I am pretty excited to join the great group of coaches that they already have over there.
Any advice for upcoming wrestlers?
I would just tell them to enjoy the process. Trust in your coaches and put in extra time.
Any chance we see you wrestle again at an Old Timer’s tournament?
Nope. I won the BV Old Timer’s a few years back and I am going out on top. That and I don’t want to pay for any more surgeries.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone you wrestled with, against, coached, etc.?
I think I named a bunch up top but to add a few: Steve Conlin, Nate Oviatt, Eli Dominguez, Dustin Tovar, Derek Keasling, Wade Hammen, Kody “Osage” Koster, Austin Hayes, Josh Murray, Kyle Forness, Jestin Hulegaard, Matt Naig, Kyle Green, The DeJong, the Schucks, the Brockshus boys, Garrett Sayler, Trent Kruger, Jose Flores, Mitchell Paca, Cole Sackett, Carson Wadle, Dean Sackett, Cody Nelson, Matt Finch, Mike Finch, Doyle Naig, KJ Besch, András Lukács-Farkas, Eric Carillo, and Jake Larson.
Do you have anything to add? Funny/interesting stories? Trivia? Etc.
One of my favorite things about high school was jumping in a few cars and heading to freestyle meets with my friends. A lot of funny things happened on those trips. One that stands out is seeing Josh Ludwig finish a Monster Burger from Hardees in between periods. It was pretty impressive. Sadly, I can’t remember if he won the match.