By chance or fate, a neighbor gave a young wrestler in Pennsylvania the movie Dan Gable: Competitor Supreme to watch nearly twenty-five years ago. What an impact that movie had. Jody Strittmatter was a very popular wrestler for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He was always aggressive, hard working, humble, and winning. Just what we like. Strittmatter placed third in 2000 and second in 2001 at 125 for the Hawks. It is rare for a wrestler to be even more popular with fans after their competition days are over. But it is safe to say that the creation of Young Guns Wrestling Club and the incredibly high quality of wrestlers from Young Guns that are becoming Iowa Hawkeye wrestlers has made the name Jody Strittmatter to be even more popular now.
I have wanted to get an interview with Jody in person for quite some time. A Young Guns wrestling camp in Le Claire, Iowa provided the opportunity this week. Jody was just as nice and humble as I remembered him fifteen years ago. The impact on the sport of wrestling that Young Guns has had on college wrestling is unmatched by any other wrestling club. Over the past six years, over 70 Young Guns wrestlers have went to wrestle in Division 1. That is an amazing stat.
For Young Guns wrestlers at Iowa, Michael Kemmerer just completed an outstanding freshman season and Kaleb Young had a successful redshirt year. Topher Carton of the Young Guns club in Iowa just completed his career at Iowa. Iowa welcomes Spencer Lee, the biggest recruit in the history of Iowa wrestling, and Max Murin to their program this fall. With recruits like that coming into the Iowa Wrestling program, Jody Strittmatter will be liked by the Iowa Wrestling nation more and more.
Jody, what is like for you to come back to Iowa?
Strittmatter: It’s always great. I have been staying in touch with one of my best friends, Eric (Juergens). It is just awesome to come back. Things have changed since we were in college. Now we both have two kids. Every other year he gets to come out to Pennsylvania and he gets to see our kids so it has been fun that way.
Young Guns has to be the most well known wrestling kids club in the country right now. Could you take us back to the very beginning on how Young Guns started.
Strittmatter: Eric came to me and said that he was approached about doing a wrestling club. They were guaranteeing us twenty kids to start with. It was in Michigan, he had done a camp there. He asked if I would do the club with him. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I wanted to go to medical school or maybe I wanted to keep competing. I just wasn’t sure. So we went up to Michigan in 2002 and dove head first and started a club. We started really, really small and just fell in love with it, but we didn’t want to be away from home. Me and Eric moved to Pennsylvania and he stayed there for one year while we started it and then he came back here. We were running the club for a couple of months and did not have a name. We sat down and kept throwing out ideas and came up with the name Young Guns.
Iowa Wrestling fans are thrilled with what we have seen so far out of Michael Kemmerer and we are excited about the future of Kaleb Young. Now we have Spencer Lee and Max Murin about to get their Iowa Hawkeye career started. What is it like for you as a Hawkeye to have a wrestler that you have worked with for years knowing that they are going back to where you wrestled at Iowa.
Strittmatter: It’s exciting. It’s really exciting. It’s fun. The atmosphere of college wrestling right now is just at an unbelievable place. It is just so much fun to watch how the programs keep upping each other. Having matches out on a football field was just an incredible experience. This is just such an awesome time for college wrestling knowing that our kids are about to go through that great experience.
When a parent and/or a wrestler approaches you about being in Young Guns, what are you looking for? What are some of the things that you have to have out of a wrestler to be in your club?
Strittmatter: Zero. There is zero expectations. Some of the kids wrestling in this camp right now are four and five years old. And we have a lot of kids. Max Murin was that young in the novice camp. So we have no expectations. You cannot expect a young kid to be college ready yet at ten years old. You just start developing skills and develop and build a relationship with the kid and there is an expectation and a standard that you have to work hard. You hear the word burnout so much. There is nothing that you have to do or a standard to be met to be in Young Guns. Just work hard. Be willing to learn. So at the very young age it is just about developing skills and developing a love of the sport. Make sure you are enjoying it. You do not enjoy losing, but you enjoy the process and the challenges it presents. I think sometimes you see that right away in a kid and other times it takes years to develop that to get to that point.
Unfortunately, the first thing that some people think of when it comes to wrestling is weight cutting. That is a stereotype that we as a sport are always trying to overcome. I cringe when I hear a gross generalization given to our entire sport of wrestling when a parent will not let their kid wrestle because they are not going to cut weight. What advice do you have for parents that steer their child away from wrestling because of their views of cutting weight.
Strittmatter: Like any sport, I think you worry about developing the skills first. Now once a kid gets a little older and he wants to cut a pound or two just for one or two events, that’s great. But it can’t be all the time. A kid is going to hate life if he can’t eat. I think it is very, very important to let parents know that you worry about developing the skills. Some people want to put their kids in situations where they can’t lose. You want to put them where they are going to get challenged all the time. You want to put them in situations where they are going to lose. I think that is very important. You see how the kid responds. It is the response and learning from that situation that is extremely, extremely important.
What changes have you seen in kids wrestling now compared in Pennsylvania in the 1990’s when you were competing?
Strittmatter: The skill level is unbelievable now. You see kids that look like they are could be in college already. And they are. It was rare to see a true freshman come in and do what we see them doing now in college wrestling. They are college ready and their skill level is absolutely amazing coming right out of high school now.
How are the participation numbers for wrestling in Pennsylvania? Even our biggest schools in Iowa are having trouble filling an entire lineup and it seems that there are a lot of forfeits in every competition..
Strittmatter: Where it is popular, it is really, really good. Like Southeast Polk, it is amazing. Then you see a lot of other teams forfeiting weights. It goes back to the coaching and tradition. If you have a coach that is extremely passionate and he is trying to build it from the bottom up, they can build an entire program and an empire. Overall, I think there are a lot of options for kids right now. In Pennsylvania, ice hockey is becoming very popular. Lacrosse, different sports like that. There is so much that kids can do now that you cannot just say hey, sign ups are on Tuesday and two hundred kids show up. It is important that you are super, super active.
What can Iowa Wrestling fans expect out of Spencer Lee and Max Murin?
Strittmatter: They love the sport of wrestling, number one. They are workers. They want their shoes on all day long. They are the kind of kids that you have to tell that practice is over and you have to get home. They are passionate about the sport. They have different styles but are both passionate about the sport and getting better. Off the mat they are amazing kids. These are the type of kids that you want your son to become like them. I’m not talking about anything to do with wrestling. The type that I want my son to become like him. Just awesome kids.
Starting with the beginning with the school year, could you take us through a year in the Young Guns.
Strittmatter: We start in September on Labor Day. We start with basics and a lot of technique and a lot of live wrestling. We will hit some tournaments like Super 32. The last couple of years we have been fortunate that have had three wrestlers in Who’s Number 1. We have had three wrestlers compete in five consecutive years. We get the guys ready for that. Then it’s just a lot training, a lot of technique and correcting mistakes. Then they go into their season. We still see them a lot, but it’s different. Summertime, spring, fall, kids are traveling with us and we are taking them to tournaments. We have Saturday morning workouts where we will run and workout.
Once they start their season, they do their own thing with their team and then they will come to us two nights a week. That is one thing that is really neat about Young Guns kids in Pennsylvania. Some clubs shut down for high school wrestlers throughout the year. One practice a day is just not enough for them. They want to get another workout in, They want to get another feel. Max wants to get down there so he can workout with Spencer. And Max wants to get there to workout with Teasdale, with Verkleeren. That is awesome to see them have that passion. So September, October, November, December, January, February we will keep it going. And then we’ll back off live wrestling throughout the end of the year and then it’s about repetition drilling and feeling good. Then in spring it’s freestyle season and we do that for all of April, May. June, July we keep it going with camps like this until August.
I am asked all the time if we can sustain where Young Guns is at right now. The positive role models have really set a standard that kids want to be apart of. The future of Young Guns is brighter than ever right now.
Are you peaking in a year cycle for the Pennsylvania age group state tournaments?
Strittmatter: Absolutely. We have kid’s state tournament, junior high state tournament, and high school state tournament. They are back to back to back weeks.
Do you have any influence on your wrestlers for academics? There seems to be a trend that so many of the elite top recruits now are real good if not great students.
Strittmatter: We talk about it every day at practice. Number one, be a great kid. I think kids need positive role models more than ever today. They need someone telling them great things and backing it up by being a good role model. This is something that my brother (John) and I talk about all of the time. Right with that is academics. You hear it all the time. You can be the best wrestlers, but if you do not have academics you are not going to go very far. You limit yourself in where you can go. If you are a great wrestler and a great kid, and great academics you can choose anywhere you want to go in the country. But if you only have one but you are getting in trouble you are limited on where you want to go. That is something that we talk about every day at practice. Being great kids, being great students. And being hammers on the mat, too.
Do you see Young Guns Wrestling Club going nation-wide? Maybe more camps next year?
Strittmatter: We rotate our camp every year. This is our fourteenth year so we rotate every year between Iowa and Pennsylvania. We have thirty Pennsylvania kids we brought to this camp and we have another seventy area wrestlers. For our camps, we have something we are very, very comfortable with . We have a lot of small camps where we have fourteen wrestlers where we can really grind all week long and really make an influence on them. Then we have some big camps where we try and bringing some of the best clinicians in the country and bring in new technique. Even coaches keep learning. I keep learning.
Where do you see as the future of college wrestling?
Strittmatter: I do not get to see college wrestling as much. As a fan, it looks amazing. The NCAA tournament is incredible. With social media now wrestling is getting great coverage. Now we have Boise State cutting wrestling. That’s the part you don’t like. The best are getting better, but what is happening at the middle and lower level? As a fan, man it is fun to watch. It is fun with the Big Ten Network how you can watch so much live wrestling. It is fun as a fan, that;s for sure.
There have been Young Guns wrestler represent our country and win Cadet and Junior World titles. What is it like for you to see wrestlers from your club go out and win internationally while representing our country? Have you ever wondered if you would have an Olympian at the Senior level? Is that a goal?
Strittmatter: It’s really not. Our goals are really simple. I get asked that a lot. It is not wanting to have ten state champions in one year, or three Fargo champions. The goal is to simply give the kids as many opportunities as possible To help them. Some kids you have to kick in the butt to get them going and some kids do that to me. They’re knocking at my door at 6 AM on a Sunday morning:
“Coach, can we use your wrestling room?”
It’s simply about helping each kid. I think we had over five hundred kids join Young Guns this past year in PA. We probably had over two hundred each month so with four locations, we had it around fifty to a practice. The kids are passionate. They want to be the next NCAA champion. Their parents are out in the hallway talking. It’s just a great environment and great culture to be in right now.
Take us back to when you were in college and decided to transfer to Iowa.
Strittmatter: I loved Iowa when I was in high school. I got second at Fargo. It wasn’t like it is today with social media and getting exposed. I got third at states my junior year and won it as a senior. I wanted to go to Iowa. Iowa signs a four-time state champ for 118. His name was Eric Juergens. I go to UPJ (Pitt-Johnstown) and I was a two-time D-II national champ, but I still wanted to go to Iowa. Eric Juergens moved up. I saw an opportunity for a weight that Iowa needed bad. I came into Iowa and become friends with Eric who became my best friend and business partner when we created Young Guns. Iowa had the four-time undefeated state champion from Iowa and had their man at 118. The weights changed and he had grown a little bit and went up to 133. Iowa really needed someone at 125. I wanted to go there and they needed someone. My coach called up Coach Zalesky. They watched me wrestle at Midlands. I won Midlands that year. After the season, I flew out for my official visit and became a Hawk.
What is your greatest memory of being an Iowa Hawkeye?
Strittmatter: Probably the first time I ran out on the mat at Carver Hawkeye. That was just a dream of mine. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I loved the Brands brothers, Gable. I wanted to be an Iowa Hawkeye from a young age. I got a copy of Dan Gable Competitor Supreme. My dad is a farmer. One of his good friends is a farmer and a wrestling coach and somehow he got his hands on Gable Competitor Supreme. Put it in the VCR and I fell in love then. I wanted to be an Iowa Hawkeye.
On behalf of the Iowa Wrestling nation, I would like to sincerely thank the farmer friend for getting Gable: Competitor Supreme to a young Jody Strittmatter. Nearly twenty-five years later, the impact of that event is still being felt by Iowa Wrestling, and for years to come.
It is great to be an Iowa Wrestling fan.