The Hiawatha School Board took a step Monday night in bringing back a wrestling program to the high school for the next academic year.
The approval by board members was a preliminary step in response to a proposal to develop a wrestling coop with Doniphan West High School. HHS Athletic Director Kim Lillie introduced the proposal to school board members at Monday’s regular monthly meeting, which was held via Zoom conference.
Hiawatha has not had its own wrestling program in several years. It was cut due to low numbers at the high school and the middle school levels and local youth wrestling programs were seeing lower numbers as well. Several years ago Hiawatha attempted a coop with Horton’s district, whose program had also declined, in an effort to still offer wrestling but save on expenses. Lillie explained this also included middle schoolers — some were coached at Hiawatha and some were coached at Horton. That lasted a short time, as numbers continued to remain too low to sustain the finances and transportation required to have a program.
Lillie said D-West has also seen low numbers, averaging around 5-6 wrestlers. She has polled the Hiawatha High school Students and found there was interest from about 5-6 students in participating.
“The biggest hurdle will be transportation,” she said.
The proposal would be that Hiawatha High wrestlers would be transported to Highland to practice with Doniphan West students. Lillie said she didn’t know whether the most efficient would be for the district to provide transportation to and from — a van driver would drop off the wrestlers then return to pick them up. Another alternative is to not offer transportation — parents would possibly have to be responsible.
Lillie did mention that Nemaha Central just added wrestling, so as of currently, all Big 7 schools will have wrestling programs if Hiawatha were to join Doniphan West.
Because D-West is not a Class 3A school, all regional and state competitions would be held within each school’s own classification, Lillie said, also noting that there would not be a program for middle schoolers with this proposal.
Lillie discussed costs with the board and said roughly Hiawatha’s portion would be around $5,200 — not more than half of the total team costs even if the number of participants was more than half.
President Ian Schuetz expressed some concern that if Hiawatha only had five kids, that’s approximately $1,000 per wrestler to keep the program going. He said he was interested in bringing it back and noted that wrestling was considered a Hiawatha “legacy” sport as many teams — in the 80s and 90s especially — saw much success. But, he was concerned with financing and numbers — especially since a youth program wasn’t prevalent in Hiawatha currently, in order to provide numbers for the future.
Lillie indicated that this is the best option to give Hiawatha a chance to add the program again, by splitting costs with another school. She noted that last time Hiawatha had a wrestling program, several athletes competed at post-season and state competitions. Lillie told the board members she had garnered some interest from the younger students as well, which would be good news for future teams.
She also told board members that the district still owns very nice wrestling mats that were purchased only two years prior to the program ending.
Schuetz agreed this was an opportunity for Hiawatha to see if there was that interest — the program would either grow or fizzle out and the district wouldn’t be out much money initially.
The board unanimously approved to move ahead with forming a wrestling coop with Doniphan West, but the approval was pending an agreement be provided to the board at the May meeting.