When John Hedden began coaching 17 years ago, he was about 30 years old. It was easy for him to get down on the ground and wrestle with the members of his team. But after a while, well, let's just say he got further away from 30.

“I think I separated a shoulder, broke my thumb and had one other relatively minor but significant injury that year. I was like, ‘Y’know, I don’t know if I want to wrestle with them anymore,’ so I kind of stepped back from that,” Hedden said. “That was about eight or nine years ago.”

Still, during practice, Hedden is out there on the mat, describing moves and even jumping in once in a while to demonstrate. 

Hedden is not the only coach in his household. His wife, Cheryl, is a math teacher who just retired from as one of the coaches of the school’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team. She says it’s amazing to see how the wrestlers respond to her husband’s coaching from the sidelines.

“I’ve seen him say just the tiniest little thing, like ‘Move your hip, or change your left leg three inches, and they’ll do it, and the whole physics of the situation changes,” she said.

Hedden says it's almost like he's feeling “sympathy stress” when he watches his wrestlers; like he's out there with them.  And, he says, it carries over into other parts of his life.

“I wake up in the middle of the night wrestling matches, where I’m actually in the match, and I hope that doesn’t happen anymore,” he said, laughing.

Cam O’Neill is a senior on the team this year.

“He’s kind of like the uncle. The cool uncle,” O'Neill said of Hedden. “He’s there coaching but at the same time he’s kind of like your family. With coaches you go and talk about baseball or something. It’s the sport activity. With Hedden you can talk about anything. He’s there to … he’ll talk to you about whatever’s on your mind. It’s good.”

Part of Hedden’s job applies to helping his team improve on the mat, but like any sport or activity, it also carries over into their daily lives.

“I certainly hope that they grow emotionally,” Hedden says. “I’ve always said I can’t think of any sport that more mimics life. It’s a lot of hard work. We have a saying in wrestling. We don’t call it fun, and it’s not a game. We don’t play it. You can’t really do that. That’s kind of like life. You sit there and you work really hard and you get these few moments of glory. And that’s what it is. I try to tell them. If you stick this out, anything that comes through your life, you can do it, because you’ve wrestled.”

Ryder Torgeson, who graduated in 2009, 44 and 2 in his senior season. He says Hedden gets worked up during the meets, but never without a purpose, and always, always with the goal of encouraging his team.

“Maybe there’s a bum call or a close call by a ref, that he doesn’t agree with, you know he’s going to be up right away arguing till his lips turn blue,” Torgeson said. “He always has your back. He’s always going to be there for you.”

Torgeson says he can relate to what Hedden says about having sympathy stress, and having to wrestle from the sideline.

“My senior year after the wrestling season I was helping out with the middle school, sort of coaching. You don’t really realize that until you’re on the side how much different it is. You’re like, ‘Oh! You’ve gotta do this!’ You want to help them but you’re sort of just stuck there. It really is draining. Yeah, he gets worked up.”

Hedden admits at the beginning of our interview that he’s a little embarrassed by the attention he’s receiving. That it’s about the kids and the parents and the sport, not the coach. He says he’s been a consistent coach, but that he wouldn’t call himself a great coach.

But when he reflects on leaving the team, you can tell he certainly had a great time.

“You choke up a little when you think about it,” he said. “I’m about to do it now. Thinking about not going to practice anymore is a big thing. That’s every day.”
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