Southern comfort: Region binds locals

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper’s Nathan Schitter, the sectional champion at 120 pounds in last month’s sectional, will join teammate Grant Brescher and Jared Boehm and Jake Rickenbaugh of Heritage Hills and compete at the state finals this weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The quartet will take turns cheering for each other as opponents become friends at the state finals.

Herald Sports Writer

All these years later, and the moment has still stuck with Rick Stenftenagel.


When the Jasper wrestling coach advanced to the state finals in the mid-1970s, his coach at the time asked a colleague from Bloomington for some insight on one of Stenftenagel’s opponents.
No advice was shared. The coach essentially told the Wildcats to take a hike. The response didn’t sit well.

“I did not like that answer,” Stenftenagel recalled.

The way the Jasper coach sees it, he’s an educator. So anytime he’s in a position to help, he will. He’s done that in the past with Heritage Hills coach Matt Thompson, and there’s a good chance the two will see each other this weekend at the state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis; action starts Friday and concludes Saturday.

Nathan Schitter (120 pounds) and Grant Brescher (145) will represent Jasper, while Jake Rickenbaugh (170) and Jared Boehm (220) advanced for Heritage Hills. Boehm is making his second consecutive trip to the state finals, while it’s the first such accomplishment for the other three.

For Stenftenagel, his penchant for dispensing advice to coaches isn’t restricted to colleagues in the southern part of the state, but there’s a camaraderie that exists at the state finals among teams from this region.


“You’ve got to represent your area and show everybody that there are good wrestlers from your part of the area,” said Boehm, who also mentioned sometimes it feels like there’s two teams at the finals: the north and the south.

Brescher said something similar, noting he’s much more likely to root for an opponent he faced during the year as opposed to “those northern guys.”

“We just know the guys and if we’ve wrestled them, it just seems right to cheer for people from the south,” Brescher said.

“Most of the southern portion, especially the southwest, supports each other at the state finals,” Thompson added.

Schitter traveled to the state finals last season as a fan, saying he was looking forward to watching Boehm and 2012 Heritage Hills graduate Swade Oser compete and was hoping they did well.

The main concern for Stenftenagel and Thompson is their own guys and representing their own school. That’s a given. But Thompson said there’s a good chance he and Stenftenagel will find an opportunity to chat for a few minutes this weekend and the Jasper coach added he’ll make sure he has an opportunity to watch Thompson’s guys wrestle.

“Yeah, we’re going to be rooting for them,” Stenftenagel said of Boehm and Rickenbaugh. “We always root for the Evansville schools, too — I don’t know if they root for us — (but) we’re always trying to pull for area guys.”


Thompson and all the local guys also mentioned a familiarity with wrestlers from the Pocket City, as he and some of the Patriots travel with Evansville Memorial wrestlers during the summer for tournaments. Couple that with seeing Evansville-based grapplers throughout the year at tournaments, and it’s understandable why area guys do an about-face and root for former opponents. It’s easy to cheer for someone who seems more like a friend than a foe.

“Basically, it’s like you know them,” Rickenbaugh said.

While Southridge and Forest Park didn’t have anybody advance to the state finals this year, Stenftenagel noted a tradition of rooting for the Raiders and Rangers during his 25-year coaching career. Stenftenagel, who will retire after this weekend, usually makes the trip to the finals even if no Wildcats has qualified. He said it doesn’t feel odd to root for someone at a perceived rival school and has even swapped notes with Southridge coaches over the years.

Surprised? Don’t be. Spend enough time around the mat and a neighborly feel eventually surfaces.

“You get to know the kids fairly well, especially if you see them during the regular season,” Thompson said of wrestlers on other teams. “As long as they’ve got a good disposition, it’s not hard to cheer them on.”

Contact John Patishnock at

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