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Guest column: Reflection on very emotional wrestling postseason as Coach and Dad

Craig Christensen, Whitehall’s longtime teacher and assistant wrestling coach, shares heartfelt journey with son Ryne.

Whitehall father and son Craig Christensen and Ryne Christensen share a special moment during team state finals as the Vikings compete Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Mich. (Photo by Shayla Hardy for CatchMark)

Craig Christensen is a longtime educator and assistant wrestling coach for Whitehall District Schools.

This wrestling season was a highly emotional one for Christensen as he juggled roles as “Coach” and “Dad” for his son, Whitehall senior Ryne Christensen.

Whitehall’s wrestling team advanced to the team state finals, where the Vikings finished as Division 3 state runners-up for a second straight season. A school-record 11 wrestlers qualified for the individual state finals by virtue of top-four finishes at individual regionals — Ryne Christensen being one of them.

Below is a guest column by Craig Christensen, who deeply and eloquently shares his and Ryne’s experiences as coach and wrestler, father and son, during impactful moments together.

INDIVIDUAL REGIONALS: Every old wrestler

I think just about every old wrestler battles the ghosts and demons of his failures as an athlete. Talk to any older guy with cauliflower ear about his wrestling career, and eventually he’ll tell you about a time when he came up short in his quest for some goal. More times than not, even after all those years, if you look closely you’ll see misty eyes.

When CatchMark SportsNet lead Scott DeCamp asked if I would be interested in writing a “guest column” about coaching my son, Ryne Christensen, through his wrestling career at Whitehall High School, I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that. 

In writing this segment of the guest column, it was less than 24 hours that Ryne survived the consolation semifinal at individual regionals. The blood round. He did something I never did as an athlete. He qualified for the individual state tournament.  

To really explain what that experience was like, I’m afraid I have to provide some context. When I was Ryne’s age, I LIVED for wrestling, and the thing I wanted more than anything on earth was to have my all-state picture hanging on the wall of Reeths-Puffer High School. As a senior, I reeled off an undefeated regular season and entered the individual district with a perfect 34-0 record and the No. 1 seed. I lost in the semifinals to a 10th-grader with a losing record. To say that I spiraled is an understatement.

I won my next match and qualified for regionals. There, I won my first match to extend my record to 38-1. I lost the following match to a wrestler I had beaten twice that season and dropped to the consolation semifinal — the blood round, where I would face the wrestler I had beaten the previous week for third place. I lost. My high school wrestling career came to an end.

I remember vividly, in the few seconds I laid on the mat before standing up to shake hands with my opponent, my dreams of being all-state dissolving before my eyes. In that moment, I remember clearly feeling guilty “knowing” how I had let my coach down — the man who had committed so much of himself to me and my dreams. I remember feeling certain that I had disappointed my mom and dad, who had sacrificed a lot of time and money they didn’t have to support me and my passion for the sport I loved.  At the time, without hyperbole, I felt that the world had stopped spinning. Thirty-four years later, my hands shake as I type this.

I think every old wrestler battles the ghosts and demons of his failures as an athlete.

The following season, in 1991, I was a volunteer assistant coach at Reeths-Puffer. I found myself dating a cute girl who would later become Mrs. C, even though we weren’t supposed to be dating — she was one of the team statisticians.

Britney and I began seeing each other in February of that year, and one of our first “dates” was at the individual regionals. We held hands under a pile of coats when I wasn’t matside. During the blood round, I watched one of my buddies, Dusty Mysen, lose his match in much the same fashion I had lost mine the previous year. As I watched Dusty’s heart break while his career came crashing to an end, I had to look away and hide my face, so the future Mrs. C didn’t see that I was crying for my friend’s loss.

No, it wasn’t that. A year later, I was still crying over my own loss.

Whitehall senior wrestler Ryne Christensen (Courtney Jimison | CatchMark)

Ryne is quite a bit different than I was. He is a much better athlete. He’s a far better wrestler. He’s smarter than I was. But the biggest difference between us is that he doesn’t love wrestling. He likes it a lot. He loves his team, his teammates. He loves his coaches. He loves what our program represents: Self-sacrifice, putting the good of the group before one’s self, going to war for your brothers, doing hard things. But he doesn’t love wrestling. As his coach, that’s been a pill I’ve had to swallow. As his dad, I’m perfectly OK with it.

Ryne wanted to quit wrestling after his sophomore year. It was during the following summer, we sat in our living room as an entire family after the season. His mom, dad, and both of his sisters just listened to Ryne. His assistant wrestling coach, Coach C, was there, too. We all wept over it together. I assured him that if he never wrestled another match, we would be just fine. I told him that I would retire from coaching, and we could find something else to do in the winter, and I meant every word. At the end of our talk, as his tears dried, he took a ragged breath, exhaled, and shook his head, “I can’t quit. I love my brothers too much.”

Since then, his stated goal was to get to make it back to the team state finals and to individual state and get his name on our wall of honor. Then, “maybe I’ll just mess around and get a medal.”

He came up short last season. He lost in the regional consolation semifinal, aka “The blood round.” So did about six of our other wrestlers. For a kid who doesn’t love it, my heart broke for him while I held him, sobbing, unable to accept that he had failed. That is a blessing and a curse of being a dad and a coach. In those glorious moments, when victory is won and the athlete leaps into your arms, it’s always special. But when that kid is your son, there aren’t any words. Every other dad has to wait for his kid to make his way to the stands. By then, he has told his story. He’s shed his tears of joy. The moment gets diluted for the parents in the stands. But right there on the side of the mat, the emotions are raw and intense in a way very few people will ever know — just the athlete and his coach experiencing together either pure thrill or pure agony.

So when Ryne took to the mat in the regional consolation semifinal, I knew very well what was at stake. Ryne jumped out to an early lead, as he often does. Then, as he often does, he got cautious — afraid to make the mistake that might cost him the match. As a result, his opponent mounted a comeback. An escape and a third-period takedown had Ryne tied with 30 seconds left in the match. Ryne scored an escape and had to hold on as his desperate opponent, another senior also wrestling for his hopes and dreams and career, created a furious scramble to end the match.

Ryne won. A lot of the next few minutes are a blur. I remember being pleased that Ryne offered his fallen opponent a hand up. I thought that was classy.

I tried to remain “cool.” I tried to appear aloof out of respect for the heartbroken 17-year-old, who would be the first wrestler into our corner to shake our hands. But the moment got away from me when fellow Whitehall wrestling coach Collin Zeerip wrapped me in a bear hug, and I began raining HARD blows across his chest that MUST have left welts (for which I later apologized). I think I screamed something unintelligible. My eyes quickly filled with tears. I think they were for Ryne mostly. Maybe they were also for Ryne’s 17-year-old dad, too.

Ryne reached our corner before I had finished shaking his opponent’s hand, and he had to wait, just a tick, to leap into my arms. I told him that I was proud of him and he sobbed, ironically, the same sob from the previous year’s blood round loss. The raw emotion sounded exactly the same. As I held him in the air, I told him again that I was proud of him. And then I let him go. Collin Zeerip and Lee Vasbinder were there, too, and Ryne adores both of them. They deserved some of that raw emotion as well.

However, at the same moment, another one of our guys — one of Ryne’s buddies, Caden Varela — was losing his blood-round match on the adjacent mat. Head coach Justin Zeerip had been with Caden and, in an instant, there were five Whitehall coaches watching that heartbreak unfold.

DeCamp asked me to write about what it’s like to coach my own kid through a wrestling season — a postseason in particular. So here goes:

I didn’t finish watching the end of Caden’s match. I’d made a mistake that I needed to fix. I chased after Ryne because I had broken one of my personal convictions: I try really hard to keep my roles of dad and coach separate and distinct. I’ve tried to give myself and Ryne clear boundaries when it comes to who I am for him. I want to be Coach when he needs me to be, but I’m desperate to be his dad when he needs me to be Dad. Those are two very different guys most of the time. When Ryne leapt into my arms, sobbing with joy, I knew in that moment that he was hugging his dad, but I was still in “coach” mode. When I told him, “I’m proud of you,” I said that as his coach. 

I walked out into the hallway where he was still crying, trying to get ahold of himself, pacing up and down the hall, trying to grasp what he had just accomplished. I grabbed him and held his face so he couldn’t look away. I locked eyes with him and said, “I want a do-over. I should have never said that I’m proud of you for winning a wrestling match. Your dad is always proud of you, and I would have been proud of you had you lost that match. Your coach is so happy for you; you accomplished an important goal. But, your DAD is ALWAYS proud of you. You understand the difference, right?” He squeezed me hard and nodded while I hugged his head tight against my chest.

Coaching my own son, trying to navigate the roles of coach and dad without destroying the relationship he has with either or both has been a blessing and a curse at times, but I wouldn’t trade the chance to be in his corner in those moments of victory and defeat for anything. And someday, when he is battling his own ghosts and demons, I hope he’ll know that his coach AND his dad loved him no matter what.

TEAM STATE FINALS: The day after Christmas

It’s Sunday morning. Well, more like noon, and I’m just starting to move. Yesterday, we made it back to the team state finals for the third year out of the past four. Our team competed tenaciously and with honor and grit all weekend. I’m really proud of what they accomplished. However, today I woke up feeling old. Emotionally drained. Mentally whipped. Exhausted on a cellular level.  

And pretty sad.

My son just called me. He went to baseball practice this morning.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

“Meh,” Ryne responded in teenage boy parlance that means something between “pretty crappy” and “just OK.” 

“Do you feel like today is the day after Christmas?” he asked me. In the Christensen house, “The day after Christmas” is a catch-all for the sadness we might feel when something that we’ve looked forward to for a long time is over. Today is the day after team state. In the Christensen house, it feels like the day after Christmas.

“Why do you think you feel that way?” I asked him.

“Well, I spent most of the morning at the VAC trying not to cry,” Ryne responded. “I ran into Aunt Beth (my sister) and she told me that she’s proud of me and that I look more and more like the spitting image of grandpa (my father).” 

Ryne never met my dad, but he does look JUST like him. He has some of the same mannerisms, too.  Sometimes spending time around a wrestling mat with Ryne takes me back to my childhood and makes me feel closer to my dad. Like Ryno and me, my dad and I bonded over wrestling, too.  

Now I’m tearing up — again — and Ryne continues, “And then Mr. Darke came into the VAC and thanked me for leaving a legacy for his son and told me that I should be proud of the mark me and the seniors have left … Like, all past tense,” he continued with a tear-stained sniffle. “And then Mr. Goodrich called and told me that he is proud of me for everything I’ve done for the team. … It’s just a lot.”

Earlier this morning, as he was leaving for the VAC, he said, “It’s weird, you think you’re looking forward to being done, but then when you are … ,” he trailed off as he walked out the door.

I know. Man, I know. It’s like the day after Christmas for me, too.

Team state: It’s what matters the most to Whitehall wrestling and to any kid who has “bought in” to what we are about. Team state is what we train for. It’s what we talk about as a team after just about every practice. It’s our “why.”

In this file photo, Whitehall assistant wrestling coach Craig Christensen and son Ryne Christensen watch a match during the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, at Muskegon High School’s Redmond-Potter Gymnasium in Muskegon, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Of course, we look forward to competing at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association tournament, and I know it’s important to our guys to perform well there. And the West Michigan Conference tournament is also important. Earning all-conference honors or a conference championship is a big deal. But team state, that’s what gets Whitehall wrestlers out of bed in the morning. Team state is our focus during the offseason — at camps, in the weight room. Justin Zeerip is a master at tailoring practices specifically to give our guys a better chance at “peaking” for the two weekends of team and individual state finals.

Ramping up for the week of team state, our guys all knew their jobs, and every kid’s job is as unique as his situation. Some jobs don’t change: Gavin Craner’s job is to maul people until he pins them; Darnell Mack’s job is to take people down and pin them in a cradle. But other guys, their jobs vary with each situation. Some guys’ job is to “keep it close.” Other guys are instructed to “Go six minutes” or “Chase bonus points.”

This year we faced a tough Clinton team in the semifinals, and a lot of our guys had very specific and very daunting jobs to do. We wrestled Clinton at Martin’s “Clipper Classic” over Christmas break and beat them by one point behind Pablo Lugo’s most improbable victory.  

Back in December, before Lugo saved the day, Cody Manzo and Kolten Weiler uncharacteristically got pinned by their Clinton opponents; Max Krukowski “only” won by decision; Nolan Taranko lost 17-2 to a two-time all-stater/state runner-up; Varela also lost 17-2. Ryan Goodrich lost a major decision. At 215 pounds, Trenton TenBrock won by fall, but it had almost seemed “too easy.” Could he repeat that performance on the biggest stage in the sport? 

This semifinal rematch against Clinton at team state finals loomed over our squad in the weeks leading up to state and the margin of error felt like it would be razor thin again. We had to find some points.

The match started at 165 pounds. Blake English would face the wrestler who major-decisioned Goodrich in December. The guy is a hammer and pinned Blake, who fought desperately to do his job: Go six minutes. But sometimes it goes that way and the team knows English is all heart. Clinton led 6-0.

At 175, Craner did his thing. Maul. Pin. Match tied at 6-6.

At 190 was TenBrock. The first question that would have to be answered. No pin this time, but a last-second major decision and one additional, all-important team point. Whitehall was up 10-6.

At 215, we shocked Clinton with Wyatt Jenkins, back from a neck injury the week of state. Wyatt had not wrestled a match this year before this tournament, and Clinton didn’t see him coming. Wyatt pinned one of their best, a regional runner up, and Whitehall led 16-6,

Just like English’s situation, usual 215-pounder Blake Morningstar fell to Clinton’s 10th-ranked 285-pounder. That left the score Whitehall 16, Clinton 12.

At 106, Manzo’s job was a tough ask: Turn around a first-period pin or at least keep the match close. Cody did just that. At the end of regulation, the match was tied at 3-3. In overtime, Cody hit a fireman’s carry straight to his opponent’s back and held him there for the fall. That’s a 12-point swing in points from the match in December. Whitehall extended its lead, 22-12.

At 113, Kolten Weiler, who also lost by first-period pin in December, wrestled a perfect match. Kolten stayed in great position and countered furious attacks to hold on for a 2-1 decision. That’s a nine-point swing from December and a 25-12 lead.

At 120, Krukowski turned his 5-1 decision in December into a 12-2 bonus-point beatdown at state. That made it 29-12 Whitehall. 

At 126, Nolan Taranko turned a 17-2 technical-fall loss into a masterful 3-0 decision loss to the weight’s top-ranked wrestler. It made the score 29-15, still in favor of Whitehall.

At 132, Varela lost by tech fall over a highly ranked regional champ, but fought off his back miraculously three times to save his team a point. The match got a little tighter, but Whitehall still led 29-20.

Whitehall senior Ryne Christensen battles his Clinton opponent during the Division 3 team state semifinals Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Mich. (Photo by Shayla Hardy for CatchMark)

And then, it was Ryne’s turn at 138.  There is this thing called “dad goggles.” Some guys look at their kids through “dad goggles” and all they see is perfection. They see the ideal version of their kids. I’m a little like that in some ways — OK, many ways. I’ll own it. But on the wrestling mat, that’s not me. I see a kid who is vulnerable to “getting caught” sometimes. I see a kid who stops wrestling aggressively because he is afraid of making a mistake. I see the kid who opens up to me and talks to me, his dad, about how much it means to him to do his job for the team and how much it hurts him when he fails. This time, he won an 8-5 decision that put the match out of reach for Clinton.

The night before, after dinner, Ryne prophetically joked that he has never hit a “celly” — a celebration for victory in a big spot. He joked that if he “sealed the match” with a win against Clinton, he would pantomime a home-run swing, and watch the ball sail over the fence as he walked off the mat.

“You cost us a team point, and JZ (The kids admiringly refer to Justin Zeerip as JZ) will kill you,” I said with a grin. But I didn’t hate the idea.

Ryne scored a takedown with about 15 seconds left in his match, and while he held his opponent down as time expired, he looked at me on the side of the mat, and I gave him my best “hit away” sign that I learned from watching his baseball coaches over the years. That is WAY uncharacteristic for me. I really hate over-the-top celebrations, but this was one of his last matches of his career. He did swing away as he walked off the mat. JZ didn’t hate it, either.

By then, the dual was all but over. Darnell Mack and Ryan Goodrich earned pins at 150 and 157, respectively. Whitehall defeated Clinton, 44-24.

Beating Clinton in the semifinals earned us the chance to face perennial wrecking ball Dundee. They beat us, but our guys fought hard and they frustrated Dundee, especially in the lower weights where it seemed like Dundee’s kids thought our boys would just lay down. They didn’t. We lost 49-20, but our guys fought the entire match like there was a chance to win. Now, I’m not big on moral victories, but in some ways our guys did win. They won because they put it all on the line, and they displayed grit and character and fight. 

Whitehall junior Gavin Craner carries the flag for his team during the team state finals Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Mich. (Photo by Shayla Hardy for CatchMark)

Anyway, today feels like the day after Christmas. I’m a little sad today. But not because we lost 49-20. In my eyes, we didn’t fail at all this weekend — not one little bit. If what we accomplished this weekend was a failure, then failure is always an option. 

It feels like the day after Christmas because we looked forward to this weekend for the past 365 days and now it’s over. So is our time together as a team. As a coach, I’m going to really miss this team as it is configured now. As the father of one of the guys, I’m going to miss the relationships Ryne has formed.

For example: Caden Varela had a tough postseason. He lost a heartbreaker in the blood round of regionals and has struggled to rebound. This week, I got to watch Caden pick himself back up with the help of his brothers and put his personal losses behind him so he could battle for his team. 

On paper, it might look like Caden failed at team state finals weekend. He went 1-3. But what the paper doesn’t show is how Caden came back, quite literally, from the depths of despair this week to battle the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked wrestlers in the state. With hurt ribs and a broken heart, Caden scrapped with those guys and saved team points against Clinton and against Dundee. If that’s failure, then failure is always an option. 

If I weren’t playing the dual role of coach and dad, I might not have known what was going on with Caden. However, I was gifted the chance to be in the room when, sitting at my kitchen table, Ryne and Ryan Goodrich were able to get Caden to talk about how devastated, disappointed, and angry he was about the way his individual season ended.  

I’m thankful to have been there to hear that and to witness teenage boys managing their emotions and pulling each other up.

And Nolan Taranko. He and Ryne have been best friends since they were in first grade. Since then, they’ve been inseparable. 

These seniors have competed at team state all four years. They’ve been in the finals three of the four. Both Ryne and Nolan found themselves in the lineup at team state as ninth-graders, and since then Nolan has gone 1-9 at team state.  

Boy, on paper that looks like abject failure. But look closer. This weekend, Nolan battled the Nos. 1, 2, and 5 wrestlers in the state. Combined, those guys have earned three state championships, one runner-up, three third-place finishes, and one top-eight finish. Nolan lost by decision to three-time state champion Kade Kluce of Dundee. The reason Nolan is 1-9 is because Nolan Taranko always, ALWAYS, does his job: Limit bonus points against their best guy; don’t get pinned by their state champion pinner; keep it to a decision against the guy that tech falled you last time. Nolan has always come through. That’s why he’s 1-9. If that’s failure, then failure is always an option.

But it hits me differently because I have a different relationship with Ryne’s friends. Two months ago, Nolan showed up at my kitchen counter and ate an entire venison loin (along with about a cup of balsamic reduction) I had spent all morning smoking. Watching kids like Caden and Nolan “fail” in such glorious and inspiring fashion is special, and I watched through teary eyes all weekend.  

But today feels like the day after Christmas because this is Ryne’s senior year, and I know I’m going to miss watching these friendships unfold. I already do, and we have a week left.

I’m going to miss watching my son develop courage and strength and passion and commitment to something bigger than himself for two hours every day. And I’m sad because for four wonderful seasons, I’ve been in the same physical space as my teenage son for two hours every day and all day on Saturdays. Today feels like the day after Christmas because those days are quickly coming to an end.

Whitehall assistant wrestling coach Craig Christensen (Courtney Jimison | CatchMark)

Maybe it feels like the day after Christmas because I don’t know how many more times I’m going to do this. This is my 30th year as a coach. I think I have a few more left in me, but I know that someday, when my career is over, I’ll lose that thing that has connected me with the hundreds and hundreds of guys I’ve coached. And since my son is one of those guys, maybe I’m afraid that I’ll lose the thing that has connected us, too. And, yes, he does look just like my dad, especially through the eyes. Maybe being close to Ryne, as his dad and his coach, has allowed me to feel close to my own father again after all these years. What a gift that has been.  

So yeah. A little like the day after Christmas.

When Ryne came off the mat after getting pinned by his Dundee opponent, he walked exceedingly slowly off the mat, his eyes looking up into the crowd toward the Whitehall fans. He seemed to be looking for something, perhaps his mom, or maybe he was just recognizing the love coming back at him from the village that raised him. Then he looked down at his teammates. When he got to me, his eyes were full of tears. He hugged me and cried softly into my ear, ”It’s all over. It’s all over.”

Yeah, I suppose it is. Ryne and I have one more weekend as father and son who are also coach and athlete, but for THIS team. His team. He’s right. It is over. It has been a wonderful experience, an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m thankful to have been able to share it with him.

But today feels a little like the day after Christmas.

INDIVIDUAL STATE FINALS: What do you say when it’s over?

The week of individual state, we watched a couple videos of Ryne’s first-round opponent, a regional champion from Constantine. Tom Jenkins’ nephew wrestled him a few times, and Tom shared some video clips. We saw some weaknesses which we thought Ryne could exploit and we created a game plan. Ryne followed the plan perfectly, starting fast with a pair of takedowns in the first period. But his opponent would battle back and score a reversal with 9 seconds left in the third period, sending the match to overtime. Ryne’s opponent would secure the takedown in overtime. Ryne lost the opener.

His next match was a repeat of the first. A pair of quick takedowns and then the painful process of watching Ryne’s lead dissolve into a two-point loss. Season over. Wrestling career over.

The process of reconciling the end of an era of one’s life is surreal. We all go through it: Things like graduating from school or moving out of our childhood home are signposts that mark the end of an era for people.  

But holding onto a kid at that exact moment, when he is face-to-face with stark reality that this thing that has defined him for most of  is life is over, that is a powerful moment. When it’s your own kid, it’s even more so.

In this file photo, Whitehall senior Ryne Christensen competes in a Division 3 team wrestling regional while father and assistant coach Craig Christensen watches nervously Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Belding, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

You know what is haunting? A kid puts his heart and soul into wrestling. He sweats, bleeds, cuts weight, goes to camps, suffers injuries, sacrifices on top of sacrifices, just to be able to call himself a wrestler. And as he walks off the mat, falling short of his own personal goals, realizing it’s all over, he throws his head into his coach’s chest, his arms draped around his coach’s neck, knees buckle and, completely broken, he sobs the words, “I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry. I’m sorry? Those were Ryne’s words to me, his coach, his dad, as he walked off the mat for the last time and fell into my arms. I’m sorry.

So, what’s it like to coach my own kid? That’s it. It’s being lucky enough to be right there in the moment when he achieves great things. But it’s also being right there in the raw, undiluted emotion in that instant when he cries, “I’m sorry” because he is devastated, and he thinks he has let down his coaches and disappointed the people he loves, all the while, trying not to face the question about whether he has let himself down.

My son has carried the weight of all of the expectations that come with being a wrestler at Whitehall: All of the expectations to perform in the absolute pressure cooker of our schedule, the high standards of his coaches and our program, the comparisons, in his own mind, to the guys he idolized as a kid and his own desire to see his name on Whitehall’s wall of all-staters.

“I’m sorry,” he cried.

In this moment, I’m dad. DAD. Not Coach. I know that the words I choose in this moment are words that he will remember for the rest of his life. “No, no, no … Ryno. There’s no need to be sorry for anything. Nothing. You’re fine. It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. Cry. Let it out. Let it out. Let all of it out.” That was my best feeble attempt because, while I’ve rehearsed this scenario many times in the last few weeks, the gravity of this moment crushes all the profound words I had planned. And then it was Justin Zeerip’s turn, and the same “I’m sorry” and the same sobs. And then coach Vasbinder. And then coach Collin. 

In this file photo, Whitehall senior Ryne Christensen competes in a Division 3 team wrestling regional while father and assistant coach Craig Christensen watches Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Belding, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Later that night, I went to my hotel room to change my clothes. I had no more than walked into my room and my phone rang. It was Ryne.

We talked, just the two of us, for about 45 minutes. He vented, tried to work everything out in his mind. I listened. As he talked, he figured things out for himself. What happened? Can this all really be over? What will my legacy be? How will I be remembered? In the end, my words to him are what we parents and coaches should say a lot more as the kids we love end their quests.

“You’re not allowed to define yourself as a wrestler by one tournament. That’s true whether you win a state championship or go 0-2. This tournament does not define you. Your time on our team is more than and bigger than one tournament.”

He nodded.  

“Ryno, you are a GOOD wrestler. You’re GOOD at this sport.”

I could see in his face and in his tears that those words impacted him. Like he needed to hear that because the way his career ended made him doubt it. “You’re GOOD. And you have left your mark on your teammates. You have left your mark on the program. I am really, really proud of you. You can be proud of you, too.” 

He nodded, which broke loose a heave and a sob. I gave him one more hug, held him while he cried, and then watched him put it away. That was enough for now. He nodded his head, sighed, and nodded again. It felt like closure. He wanted to go celebrate with his best friend, Nolan, who had just earned all-state honors a few hours before.

I know that Ryne will continue to seek closure as he comes to grips with “the end.” I think that’s what we all do. As he does, I hope that he’ll forgive his dad for those times when dad was a little too much his coach and that he’ll forgive his coach for being too much his dad. 

And I hope that as he grows older, maybe becomes a dad one day, MAYBE even coaches his own kids, that he’ll remember fondly the time we spent together for four years from November through the first weekend in March.  

Thanks, Ryno, for sharing those times with me.  

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.



  1. Mike Mack

    March 11, 2024 at 9:31 am

    What a AWESOME article! Thank you sir & Scott for sharing !

  2. Dana McGrew

    March 11, 2024 at 11:00 am

    Awesome article!

  3. Rex R. Allen

    March 11, 2024 at 11:22 am

    Wow C2,,,,,what a wonderful ,wonderful article ,chronicle, etc, of your experiences as father and coach…….
    One is Not a failure if one has done his/her very Best!!!
    I played and coached and then refed’ the game of basketball a long, long time. I well remember the ups and the downs involved in the competitions.
    I can vividly remember walking off the b.ball court for the last time after we had been beaten by Muskegon Christian who went on to be the Class C State champions that year. I remember our supt. of schools meeting me there just off the court and telling me I had nothing to be ashamed of and to hold my head up proudly.
    And , of course , my parents attended every athletic event thru my years at WHS whenever possible.
    Well enuff said Mr C…..certainly enjoyed your article…..
    Footnote……..Craig is a former student of mine at Reeths-Puffer. And as so, I love seeing him as well as many others there , do well in their careers after their schooling….
    Rex A

  4. Ron Kempker

    March 11, 2024 at 11:29 am

    Great story. Brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations to both.

  5. Isaac

    March 14, 2024 at 9:49 am

    Mr C If you are reading this know that you are most likely the best english teacher I will ever have. Isaac Davis Ist hour English 2024

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