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Wolfpack back on right track

It may not look like much on paper, but to Park High School's wrestling program, 11-10 is more than just a winning record, it's an evolution. The Wolfpack wrestlers have suffered through losing seasons since 1996. Coach David Bunn, who just ended...

It may not look like much on paper, but to Park High School's wrestling program, 11-10 is more than just a winning record, it's an evolution.


The Wolfpack wrestlers have suffered through losing seasons since 1996. Coach David Bunn, who just ended his sixth season at the helm, hadn't experienced a winning season since he arrived at Park.


So for the Wolfpack, 11-10 is a big deal.


"It's a tribute to how hard everyone in the program has been working the last few years from the elementary levels, the elementary coaches to the junior high coaches to high school, to booster club," Bunn said. "The program has definitely changed over the past few years."


But there's a feeling around the program that the success is just beginning. Park didn't harness all its energy, put together a tough, experienced lineup that peaked out to give the Wolfpack a winning season with all its eggs in one basket.

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Rather, Park's wrestling room looked more like a day care when the season began. From top to bottom, youth was the theme of the lineup. But even with experience at a premium, Bunn knew this would be the season of change.


"I think this was the year where if we had a real positive season, these young kids are really going to start to step up," Bunn said. "They are excited. We had fun the whole season. That sort of atmosphere and excitement will only breed success. People don't want to be part of something where they don't feel like they are accomplishing much. They don't feel positive about the situation. But this by far is hopefully the catalyst for the future."


This season's success gives Park a foundation to build on for the future, but getting to this point took a lot of work.


The booster club began when Bunn took over at Park, and has been a huge support for the squad. Along with the coaches at the elementary and junior high levels, the booster club has helped raise awareness of the sport of wrestling in the community.


While more people became interested, the sport couldn't take off right away. Even though more kids started getting involved in open tournaments and camps through USA Wrestling, the lack of a solid tradition at the high school level kept the wrestling scene from really exploding.


And though it still hasn't exploded, at least the water is starting to boil.


"It had to happen," Bunn said. "The most important thing for us to have success and to help build is that kids around school and around the community feel good about the wrestling program. They feel proud to be a part of the program that's starting to grow and there is excitement. There are more kids in the school coming to watch their peers. Awhile ago, it seemed like a lot of people at the wrestling meets were family. Now, kids are starting to get more of an understanding as well."


But it's not just those at Park noticing a difference. Coaches around the conference are starting to look twice at the Wolfpack, as Bunn received a plethora of compliments about his squad this season.

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Paul Vaith, 18-year coach of conference powerhouse Hastings, has seen steady improvement in Park for a few years.


"I think you can see that the Park program is getting stronger by the week," Vaith said. "You're seeing the kids technically getting better, you're seeing the numbers, you're seeing involvement across the board. They've got a good coaching staff and parents support."


Vaith acknowledged that wrestling is always a work in progress and that it starts with the youth program. As the community continues to embrace wrestling, the improvement will follow.


The result for the Wolfpack is coaches around the conference have to remind their squads before a meet with Park that this isn't the same team from five years ago.


"At all levels you know Park will be a formidable opponent," Vaith said. "You can even see it with the younger ones. They stick their nose in there and work hard. You have to treat them with respect."


For the Wolfpack wrestlers, that respect leads to pride. For Bunn, he hopes that the community shares in that same pride, because the success is a result of everyone involved.


"I am proud to be the leader of this organization," Bunn said. "Park High School and the Cottage Grove community, St. Paul Park, should be really proud of these kids. And not only of them, but the entire program."

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