BELDING — Belding wrestling coach Travis Meyer gets to do something this week he never had the opportunity to do as a high school wrestler.
The former Redskin — graduated from Belding in 2001 — will get to lead his program on the mat at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek for the MHSAA team state wrestling finals on Friday and hopefully Saturday, as well.
Belding defeated Leslie for its first regional championship since 1988 on Feb. 13. They are seeded eighth for the finals tournament and will face No. 1 seed Dundee at 1 p.m. Friday in the Division 3 quarterfinals.
Dundee has been state runner-up four of the past five years and has won multiple state titles — the last in 2007.
“It’s kind of an unbelievable thing. We had a chance my freshman year and a couple of OK teams, but nothing that rivaled going to state,” Meyer said.
Meyer said his team, as a freshman (1998), lost in the regional finals to eventual state champion Montrose (52-17).
“We had a really strong team. We were a 30-win team and lost in the regional finals to Montrose,” Meyer said. “We just ran into somebody early, but that is the way the cards are dealt.”
Montrose defeated Tri County in the finals 62-12 for its second straight state championship.
Now, 15 years later, Meyer will get to make his first trip to Battle Creek. He never had the chance as a wrestler, bypassed the chance to do so a spectator and now will be there as a coach for his alma mater Belding.
“Every year I have kids that want to go to state and watch. But I tell them I’m not going until I’m coaching there,” Meyer said. “I never got to wrestle there, never went to watch and I’m not going to watch. This year we actually got ourselves a free ticket to roll around on the mat.”
Meyer in his fifth year as head coach was a three-sport athlete in high school. In addition to wrestling, Meyer also played football and baseball.
“I was the hyperactive, short attention span kind of a kid that couldn’t stick to one thing,” Meyer said. “I couldn’t be a wrestler all year long. I couldn’t have gone to baseball camps all winter long. The change up each season worked out just fine for me.”
In high school, Meyer was a three-time regional qualifier, but never made it to the individual state finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Now a teacher for Ionia County Intermediate School District, Meyer said he decided to become a teacher and coach in college (Central Michigan grad).
“I couldn’t tell you what happened first, whether I decided to be a teacher or a coach,” Meyer said. “In college, everything came together and the right things happened at the right time when I graduated to end up locally.”
Being home allowed Meyer the chance to work with his former wrestling coach John Baum. Meyer describes Baum as a grandfather-like figure.
“Coach (John) Baum is a legend and I wrestled for him. He was a friend of my grandfather and almost a grandfather-like figure for myself all through school,” Meyer said. “I always had this dream of coming back and working with Baum. Circumstances set that up pretty well, but unfortunately he passed away and I was blessed with the program.”
Baum is a member of the Michigan Wrestling Association Hall of Fame (2003), wrestled for Michigan State University, an Olympic alternate and longtime Redskins wrestling coach.
“Wrestling was just a disciplined sport, where you had an opportunity to do your job for the team and then got to wrestle for yourself now and then,” Meyer said. “To upset an individual you didn’t need much help from others, but to upset a team you needed everyone, root people on and sometimes be a little selfless by bumping up or down a weight class. There are a lot of cool aspects to wrestling.”
The Belding program has been solid the past couple of years, but has struggled at times to fill out a full lineup.
“We have been fairly successful considering we maxed out with nine guys in our lineup my first year,” Meyer said. “We were still .500. The last couple of years we’ve had 20 plus wins and kept our losses in the single digits.
“This year we kind of had the injury bug and will take 13 down to state. But numbers are steadily improving,” he added.
Meyer said recruiting is the toughest part to coaching.
“A spandex suit is a tough sell when you’re talking to a 15-year-old kid in the hallway. That is tough, but now we are talking spandex suits and district and regional trophies. Hopefully, this will help,” Meyer said. “The kids have started to realize as we fill empty weight classes around them, we have more success. The kids have started to recruit other kids to wrestle now.”
Winning breeds success. Reaching the state finals is a good start to attracting new wrestlers and building a tradition.
“This will be the biggest atmosphere anyone on our team has every wrestled in,” Meyer said. “No one individually has been to state to wrestle. We have three seniors and a junior in our lineup and everyone else is younger. I’m a little anxious to see their response to the action and the crowd.”
Five Belding wrestlers qualified for the individual state tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Todd Haller (215), Neil McCully (189), Michael Walker (189), Jesse Scheidel (125) and Nate Cooley (112) all will wrestle Feb. 28 to March 2.
Recent team champions
2012 Detroit CC 47, Oxford 9
2011 Oxford 26, Detroit CC 25
2010 Detroit CC 39, Rockford 24
2009 Rockford 30, Holt 29
2008 Holt 41, Temperance Bedford 17
2012 St. Johns 41, Lowell 18
2011 St. Johns 54, Greenville 18
2010 St. Johns 31, Allegan 30
2009 Lowell 35, Oxford 20
2008 Greenville 33, Eaton Rapids 30
2012 Richmond 34, Dundee 23
2011 Richmond 33, Lake Fenton 22
2010 Richmond 24, Dundee 23
2009 Goodrich 33, Dundee 25
2008 Goodrich 30, Dundee 27
2012 Hudson 33, Shelby 22
2011 Hudson 31, Hesperia 25
2010 Hudson 43, Addison 20
2009 Hudson 31, Hesperia 23
2008 Hesperia 48, Manchester 24