by Samantha Lefebvre
A hunger and passion for the sport of wrestling has led Anoka’s head coach Todd Springer to his 200th career win.
Springer etched his way into the Tornadoes record books with Anoka’s landslide 63-12 victory over Armstrong on Feb. 9 during the last home triangular of the season.
Wrestlers of all ages and skill levels ran out to the mat and hoisted Springer on their shoulders in celebration.
Springer, an 1989 Anoka graduate and 1989 state wrestling champion at the 135-pound weight class, remembers being on the team when his coach at the time, Ron Malcolm, celebrated his 400th win during his senior year.
“We were at Apple Valley and my mom baked the cake and did the whole celebration. I thought that he was just a tremendous legacy and I just thought that was so awesome to get 400,” Springer said.
“I just have flashbacks now of that day and giving him that cake and having that celebration. I’m not to his 400, but who knows maybe someday that will come.”
Springer has been the head coach for the Tornadoes since 1997. In that time he has brought the team to the state tournament three times (1996, 1997 and 2000) and has produced 10 state champions.
One of those champions is now on his varsity coaching staff. Lucas Murray, a 2007 graduate, went to state four times and took home the championship his senior year in the 140-pound weight class. Today Murray coaches alongside the man who taught him everything he knows on the mat.
Although their roles as coach and student have shifted to coach and assistant coach, Murray says that their relationship has stayed constant over the years.
“He still gives me a lot of advice about life in general,” Murray said, who currenty wrestles for Augsburg College and is going for a degree in special education. “It’s kind of a different relationship than I have with the other coaches, because he is more of a role model to me and he helps me out with a lot of things like school and just life.”
When Springer first came to the program 15 years ago, he also set out to revamp the team’s wrestling room. Obviously being a part of Anoka’s rich tradition on the mat, he wanted to display the history for past, present and future wrestlers to view and be inspired by.
Other than working with the athletes, it is the one thing he really wanted to do while being head coach and he says he is almost there.
“The wrestling room to me is kind of like the badge of honor, the trophy case, and I’ve worked hard to put all the individual state champions, the pictures and just the amount of history we have on the walls,” Springer said. “It was kind of a blank canvas when I took over so we have been working hard to spruce it up. Still working on it and hopefully adding to it some more.”
Springer’s involvement on the mat goes much further than high school practices and matches. He is involved in the middle school and youth programs as well.
“He really lives and breathes the sport,” said co-head coach Kurt Werk. “He is up here twice as much as the next coach. He is here for the kids in the morning and after school, and then even later in the evening because his son is in the youth program. So I like to think he lives here during the wrestling season.”
Werk has been coaching with Springer for five years and the two of them agree that they think alike and work well together. They also help keep one another in check during high pressure situations.
“Sometimes the kids call me the Red Rooster because I get a little wound up, a little passionate and spun up and I get red in the face,” Springer said. “And he (Werk) is always the one to kind of look at me and calm me down and say, ‘It’s all right.’ We complement each other extremely well.”
It is his strong bond with his fellow coaches like Werk and Murray that has produced Springer’s coaching philosophy, “let people take over and have everyone be a part of the Anoka family.”
“We all have a history, a little bit of passion and excitement,” Springer said. “I don’t have to be the one in the room showing the techniques every time or doing the motivational speeches or whatever, everybody at any minute can really step up.”
Joining Springer on the wrestling room walls are three of this year’s seniors who have all stepped up and reached milestones of their own. Jeremy Beaman and Ryan Norton both reached 100 wins this season. Reigning state champion, Kyle Begin, hit his 175 career win this season putting him in third for the most winning wrestlers for Anoka, behind Murray and Jake Deitchler, former Gopher and Olympian.
“It feels pretty cool to reach that,” Begin said. “The feeling is really cool to be up there with all of the great wrestlers that have come out of Anoka.”
Begin is ranked number one in the state for Class 3A at the 170-pound weight class.
“I’m excited to watch him wrestle in the postseason here and go for a second title,” Werk said.
As a team Anoka is seeded sixth in section 7AAA and will face fifth-seed Forest Lake in the first round of the section tournament in St. Michael Feb. 17.
“I would like to wrestle above our seed,” Springer said. “I certainly think this group can do that.”
Despite the team having its taken its lumps this season, Springer was able to look back on the night he received his 200th victory to the very first night of the season when the team honored the very first state champion for Anoka, Wendell Burrows, who later became a two-time state champion for the program.
“I really thought long and hard that night and got really humble that I have had the honor to kind of be in charge for as long as I have,” Springer said. “And I always try to live up and better the program and I think I have done that, at least tried.”