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By Keith Wollert
Colorado High School Wrestling Association
Special to WIN Magazine
I have an awesome story to share with you about a wrestler who just won his first State Championship. His name is Robert Darnell of Holly. I’m Keith Wollert the Wrestling President of Colorado High School Coaches Association. I have produced and help produced several state placers in my day, but this one is very special.
Robert approached me at our local county fair last August. I used to coach Robert until he was in 8th grade for I took a job in Las Animas the following year and also that year became the Wrestling Vice President of Colorado High School Coaches Association. I was in Las Animas for two years before I decided to retired after many years of coaching in the school systems. My next step was to become the president of Colorado Wrestling Coaches Association.
I turned my three car garage into a wrestling gym back in 2000. I started coaching Robert when he was 6 or 7 years of age. I had a small group of young wrestlers and I was taken this little group to these youth wrestling tournaments around the area and Denver. Roy, Robert’s dad, liked my philosophy of coaching and we started talking to each other and one thing lead to another. Roy is not bashful man when he has something on his mind he will let you know and if you don’t want to listen that is your loss. Hey, what can I say we became very good friends!! Roy is a very honest man and he is raising Robert the right way, this just one thing of many reasons why we bonded. I told my wife, Susan this kid and dad has touched my heart and I need to help develop this young wrestler and story gets better.
It was hard on Robert, and his dad and me when I left Holly, to go Las Animas but we still kept in touch over the years and when Robert came to ask me if I could help him win State this year. I responded “probably”. So we decided to a make a game plan. Remember Roy, Robert, and I are very close but Robert still is representing Holly under the coaching of Lyndon Wagner, who in my opinion is a good coach.
I have been coaching for a very long time and my experience and my vision to correct things where it is needed are my strong points. Roy and Robert have known this about me from the beginning. Robert started coming down to my gym in August once or twice a week until wrestling season started and it just got too hard to fit it in his schedule since he was traveling a 75 miles round trip.
Then I got a phone call again over Christmas break. It was Robert; he was asking if his dad and he could come down to my house to talk to me? They wanted me to coach Robert at the Who’s Bad Tournament held in Pueblo this year. At Pueblo was where I figured out what we needed to do to get Robert over the hump to beat those top kids. We needed to make a lot of adjustments to his moves and had a short time to do it. We suggested that after his team practice every night they would come down to my gym. I told Robert “While you are driving to my gym, you are going be tired, but think this is your third period. You’re mentally thinking of the moves you are going to use over and over so you can find that way to win your match.”
I explained to Robert and Roy during that time, how Kevin Le Valley, of Limon (2A wrestler) did his work out with his team and then after his practice Kevin and his dad, Dan would travel to Colorado Springs from Limon to practice with the mixes of Mike McArthur, Coach Raefel, and Coach Grenawalt twice a week. Kevin was a 4-time Colorado State Champion and now currently wrestling for Bucknell University as a true senior and is ranked 4th in the Nation in NCAA DIV.1. Robert decided immediately that he was coming to my gym every night. His quote “plan on me being here coach”
Three times a week Robert would lift weights at 5:00 a.m., go to school and take care of his academics by carrying straight A’s in every class but one. His team practice would last for an hour and 1/2 to 2 hours, then every night after practice Roy and he would travel 75 miles round trip to my house and let me help him for an hour and 1/2 and right there my friend that it is called DEDICATION.
As you know Robert’s (Junior) dream became true as he won his first Colorado State Championship after being in the state finals 3 years in a row. Robert wrestled in total control and cruised through the state tournament and also he was runner-up to Lane Crumley of Akron who was the (2A) Outstanding Wrestler. After the referee raised his hand, it was breath taking to watch Robert celebrate by hopping around the mat and when he leaped, for he was air born for a long ways into his dad’s arms. That was so awesome to witness that bond they have for each other. Robert celebrated with his family, fans, coaches, and his teammates; you would think it doesn’t get better than that but when Robert received his state bracket he slowly walked toward me. He reached up to shake my hand, proceeded to give me a hug, and quoted to me “I could not have done this without you”
For all of the years of coaching it is an honor in helping a special individual like Robert, he was so coachable and so prepared for his Regional and State Tournaments. I knew he had great chance to win it all and Robert was convinced that nobody in the state worked harder or put in more time than him. He was totally prepared for anything his opponents had to offer.