FREMONT – Collin Zeerip has played an integral role in Tee Ward’s transformation as a state title-contending wrestler, training Ward when he was in grade school.
The lessons continued last summer at Heritage Farms Market in Fremont, where Ward worked for the Zeerip family.
In constructing an 18-hole miniature golf course, Zeerip put Ward to work, Mr. Miyagi-style: Picking out just the right field stones among thousands of them and moving them to decorate the mini-golf course. No heavy equipment could be used. It was to be done all by hand.
“Yeah, it was pretty intense,” Ward recalled. “We had to pick rocks by hand from a rock pile, put them in a truck, then unload them using buckets and hand-place them around the mini-golf course.”
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
Timothy Donald Ward II, known by everyone as “Tee,” proved to possess the discipline and mental toughness required to move the field stones. On the wrestling mat, he’s looking to move mountains. The Fremont High School junior dreams of following in Zeerip’s footsteps and one day wrestling for the University of Michigan.
More immediately, Ward is setting his sights on capturing an MHSAA state title. Last winter, he finished runner-up at the 119-pound weight class of the Division 2 state finals at Ford Field with a 49-3 season record. As a freshman in 2021, Ward placed fourth in Division 2 at 112 pounds with a 35-5 record.
This season, Ward sports a 13-0 record with six tech falls, four pins and three forfeits while competing primarily at 132 or 138 pounds. Currently, he’s sitting on 97 career wins and may have the opportunity to reach No. 100 in the Eric Scott Holiday Mat Cat Classic Dec. 30 at Montague.
Ward is ranked second in state in Division 2 at 132 pounds by Michigan Grappler, the organization for which he also trains.
In the last two years, Ward has been a Cadet Michigan National Team member, a Michigan National Cadet Team member and an AAU Disney Duals All-American.
“He’s grown a lot, just a ton. He puts in the extra time and does all the right things and camps and practices and competitions. He’s definitely put in the time and he’s kind of earned everything he’s worked for,” said Zeerip, who is co-coach at Whitehall High School with brother Justin Zeerip.
“He knows what to do. He goes out there and … He’ll work super, super hard at the market, too.”
The Zeerips’ father, Craig, is Fremont’s head coach. He’s known Ward since his days wrestling MYWAY in the Packers’ youth program.
Tim and Lori Ward’s family lived in Fruitport until Tee was in kindergarten. The youngster tried youth basketball, but weighing 35 pounds at that young age, he could not muster the strength to heave the basketball up to the hoop.
Tee picked up wrestling and he shined immediately. He took first place in his first five tournaments.
Now 16 years old, Ward has continued to grow literally and figuratively. He’s the complete package, also playing soccer, serving as a captain for Fremont’s wrestling team, and carrying better than a 3.9 GPA.
Ward is a bit shy, but nonetheless, he is a role model for peers and youngsters alike. He’s popular, yet very humble and that applies to the classroom and athletic arenas.
Tim Ward said that wrestling has helped bring his son out of his shell.
“He moved a lot of rocks this summer and some people wouldn’t like that, but he’s so even-keel, he’s got such a good attitude about stuff, he’s good to go with it,” Craig Zeerip said.
“He just carries it the right way. He’s very smart, like in the classroom; he’s very well-respected. But people will sometimes (say), ‘I didn’t even know he wrestled.’ It’s the same thing with soccer. He’s very well-versed, he’s very mature. He’s just a great young man.”
Fremont junior Killian Prewitt, who placed eighth in the state at 103 pounds last season, is wrestling primarily at 120 pounds and he’s a drilling partner of Ward’s.
Prewitt calls Ward “one of the best in the business.” While Ward comes off shy, Prewitt said that he is comedic and quick-witted. He’s one of those people who never seems to have a bad day and he brings that positive energy to the lunch table, wrestling room, you name it.
On the mat, however, it’s tough to tangle with Ward, according to Prewitt.
“When Tee’s on his feet, it’s different. I can kind of hang with him on top and on bottom, but on our feet, he makes me look like I’m first-year wrestler,” Prewitt said.
While Ward is level-headed and well-grounded, he’s still shooting for the stars when it comes to his goals. Individually, he wants to be a state champion this season. As a team, he’s hoping Fremont back make it back to the state finals.
Long term, Ward is fascinated by astronomy.
After all, he has experience moving rocks and, well, planets are rocks.
Ward said he’s inspired by his father, but Collin Zeerip has been a major influence in the way he wrestles and, consequently, how he carries himself.
“He kind of, like, transitioned me to the style I am right now,” Ward said about Zeerip. “Before, I was maybe a little bit more timid on my feet, wasn’t shooting as much. He really helped me in-neutral, just getting my shots off and pretty much just become who I am.”
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