Jerry Simes

Litchfield’s Jerry Simes fights to keep off his back against Simley’s Ryan Sokol in the second round of the state tournament this past winter. Simes may have new teammates soon if a proposal to combine the Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato wrestling teams is approved.

A proposal to combine the Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato wrestling teams has some parents grappling with the idea of change.

According to Litchfield activities director Justin Brown, the number of wrestlers in the Litchfield wrestling program is insufficient. Players with similar ability levels and sizes are scarce, which leaves wrestlers with limited opportunity to practice, compete and win.

Brown said last year the team tried to fill 14 varsity weight classes but couldn’t do it for one dual match. The team’s record in its bottom seven weight classes was 15-89.

“That’s because we had to force kids to wrestle varsity,” he said. “We had seven good wrestlers, which a few of those graduated. And then we had seven wrestlers that were not ready for varsity, but they had to be part of it because we tried to fill a lineup.”

At the end of last season, head coaches, activities directors, superintendents and parents discussed combining DC and Litchfield wrestling programs.

“The booster club president of Dassel-Cokato said we need to (co-op) to maintain our (programs),” Brown said. “Discussions between my superintendent, the head coaches and the coaching staffs unanimously agreed that this is what’s best for our programs moving forward.”

Currently, there are 10-12 kids in Litchfield’s wrestling program, whereas 15-20 is best, Brown said. If the team’s co-op, the Litchfield and DC wrestling teams will double the number of wrestlers to 25-30, while the number of coaches will remain the same, he said.

Brown said there are other benefits to the proposed co-op.

“You are going to have a better dual team, which is going to create more excitement, more energy for our program,” he said. “You are going to essentially have much better practice partners … and they are going to make each other better. The biggest positive is that you are going to increase the numbers of your program, which is going to allow you to fill the 14 varsity weight classes with actual kids who should be on varsity.”

The co-op would not affect the team’s classification, either. The combined enrollment for Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato is around 1,000, well below the Class 2A cutoff of 1,254.

Co-ops are not uncommon in wrestling programs, Brown said.

“Wrestling is a different sport,” he said. “There are more co-ops in wrestling than there are in any other activity. … A lot of wrestling programs have been forced to co-op because they just simply can’t fill all 14 varsity weight classes.”

While opponents don’t want the wrestling team to lose its identity as the Litchfield Dragons, Litchfield head coach Dan Buker said the benefits outweigh the concerns of identity.

“Yes, it’s definitely a tough decision on either side that you’re on,” Buker said. “Typically, co-ops happen because of numbers. But there is other stuff where it’s just geographic, where there’s such a big distance between co-ops that makes it such a challenge to recruit kids. I feel like the distance (between Dassel-Cokato and Litchfield) is not (huge).”

Buker said that if the School Board approves the co-op this summer, the team can immediately begin preparing and practicing together. Even after the co-op, a lot of work will be needed.

“As the season goes on, I think we’ll find things that are going very well,” Brown said. “You are going to win more duals. You are going to compete for a section title. You are probably going to compete for a conference title. And when your program is successful people recognize that and (will) want to be a part of it.”

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