I grew up around basketball, not wrestling.
Ever since I was little, I can recall spending many a winter, even summer afternoon on the court, whether inside or out.
I still have vivid memories of those summers in high school back in Stromsburg, Neb., when me and my buddies would take over the humble court at Buckley Park, turn on the lights and let the games begin.
We’d play for hours. No matter how tired we were from a hard day’s work in the nearby corn fields, or after a lifting session, there was basketball to be played. And played we did, typically from 8:30-9 to 11 every night, maybe 11:30 or midnight on Friday or Saturday.
While Stromsburg was good at wrestling — they even won the Class C state team title my junior year in a co-op agreement with nearby Osceola — it wasn’t the sport of choice per se among my friends.
So when I first started in Spirit Lake and learned the tasks at hand of covering prep sports in Dickinson County, there was one thing I knew I had to learn and fast.
I’d heard all about Iowa’s rich tradition with the sport. I figured I’d better learn it and learn it fast.
It was an immersion by fire that winter. Spirit Lake Park was in the middle of several big runs led by the Sandy brothers under the direction of then-coach Rick Vander Woude.
Fortunately, I was blessed to learn from some terrific people such as coach Vander Woude and then-Okoboji, Milford, coach Justin Bouse.
They helped this wrestling greenhorn learn.
One thing I quickly found out that first winter was the tremendous energy, excitement and passion that comes with wrestling from the wrestlers, coaches and supporters.
As a photographer, I almost immediately learned to keep my eyes open, look for reactions.
It also taught me to look, sense, anticipate those big moments.
I saw that first hand even more so that first winter when I covered the final state wrestling tournament at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.
There was nothing like shooting in The Barn, with the patrons right on top of the action.
My education continued along when I moved to northeast Iowa, where wrestling is not just another sport.
It’s a way of life up there.
Going to towns such as Charles City, with its rich wrestling tradition, at the time under the direction of coach Dave Williams, Nashua-Plainfield when they were in the midst of their banner runs under legendary coach Al Frost, even Rockford with coach Todd Siebert and North Butler with coach Gordie Smith, my education deeper into wrestling was invaluable.
It provided some priceless moments along the way, whether at the U.S. Cellular Center back when state duals were held there, or at Wells Fargo Arena for traditional and later both the duals and traditional tournaments.
Those moments stick out still to this day.
Somewhere in my house is old papers from those sectional, district and state meets where I was able to capture some gutwrenching lows and some amazing highs.
One of my favorite wrestling memories, to date, came in the final match of the 2010 traditional state tournament. Nashua-Plainfield’s Caleb Wilken and Mount Ayr’s Dylan Lame tussled deep into the night in the Class 1A final at 285 pounds. By the time the second overtime session started, they were the last match going.
The final match of that tournament.
Eventually Wilken pulled out a 4-2 win in double overtime.
The reaction on his face, that of coach Frost was priceless.
I can still see the winning moment, the reaction on coach Frost’s face, the bearhug they shared after. I know I used a slew of those images in the next paper early that next week in Charles City.
In that same vein, at Tuesday’s Class 2A dual regional meet, something caught my attention.
When I saw that the first dual started at 182 pounds, it meant the second would start at 195.
It also meant if Creston/Orient-Macksburg beat Winterset, the final match of the championship round would be at 182.
It would be the final time Panthers senior Chase Shiltz would be on the mat in Creston.
I didn’t know what would happen exactly, but I had a hunch.
I wanted to find a way to capture the final moments of one of the Panthers’ all-time great wrestlers and all-around athletes competing at home for the final time in wrestling.
It led the image you see here today.
As the match ended, the camera was focused towards where the team was at. As Shiltz walked off the mat, I let the shutter fly, clicking images as fast as the camera would go.
When I returned to the office a little later after finishing post match interviews, transcribing the interviews and writing the story, I started looking into the photos.
I found that one.
It’s not the flashiest of pictures, not the most emotional.
But it says plenty.
Shiltz greeted by longtime classmate and teammate Kadon Hulett for a simple, quick hug.
It was maybe all of five seconds.
But I’m sure glad it was captured.
It’s moments like Tuesday’s, other big moments — like the images I captured in Kansas City, Kan., of Collin Bevins bearhugging the NCAA Division II national championship trophy after Northwest Missouri State’s win in football over North Alabama a few weeks ago on a cold and snowy mid-December evening at Children’s Mercy Park — I live for as a photographer.
I hope you all enjoy this picture.
To coach Vander Woude, coach Bouse, coach Williams, coach Frost, coach Siebert, coach Smith, Creston/Orient-Macksburg coach Darrell Frain, assistants Cody Downing, Casey Tanner and all the other coaches, parents and community members who’ve helped me along the way over the years that are far too numerous to name who have helped me understand and try to capture the emotion of this great sport both in written word and through pictures, I say a huge and hearty thank you.
I know I can still do much better at my wrestling writing, pictures. I hope to keep growing. It’s important to so many and because of that, it’s important to me to give you all the best coverage possible.
Here’s to hoping I can snap many more images, write great stories just like that in the future.
Contact the writer: Twitter @ryankronberg. Email: email@example.com