On any given weekday during the school year, a Wartburg College wrestler can usually be seen doing one of two things: going to class, or practicing his moves on the mat.
But a special event last Tuesday gave the wrestlers a chance to trade their pads for paintbrushes. The team took part in Waverly’s inaugural “Day of Caring”, a “community wide day of volunteering, helping others and random acts of kindness,” per the city’s website.
The event was originally scheduled for Sept. 11, but inclement weather pushed the outdoor activities Tuesday.
Dozens of projects were completed around the city, from trash pickups and food drives, to a downtown cleanup and church pew removal.
The Wartburg wrestlers were tasked with sprucing up the outside of the Ira Sturdevant Historical House, located at 502 1st St. SW.
Built in 1855, it is the oldest surviving house in Waverly. The house is laden with history and memory, and once fully restored, it will serve as an educational, living-history site. But the outside area needed rejuvenating first.
So the Knights went to work, repainting and staining the wooden fence on the property’s perimeter, cutting the grass, removing the weeds and applying mulch.
“Basically, aesthetically, just made it look a little nicer,” Wartburg wrestling coach Eric Keller said Thursday. “You can tell it’s been neglected a little bit. They’re going through the steps to try and restore it. That was where they wanted us, and I said, ‘We’ll do it.’”
Keller has served as the team’s head coach for seven years, and over that time, Wartburg has just three losses. His 132-3 career record has won him Iowa Conference Coach of the Year four straight times from 2012-2015, and he has been named National Coach of the Year three times by d3wrestle.com.
As a team, the Knights have won eight out of the last ten NCAA Division III championships.
“I think a little bit of our program stature was one reason,” Keller said. “Also, Mike Byl, the president of The Accel Group and one of the guys who was spearheading it, has a wrestling background. I know him and he knows our program. He probably knew we’re a program that’s on board.”
On top of that, the wrestling team has history with charity work in Waverly, specifically with staining. The Wartburg wrestling team did some work on the Adams Parkway Bridge about two years ago.
“We took our team out there and stained that whole bridge just to try and keep it looking nice,” Keller said. “I think anytime you can give back to the city of Waverly and help make it look great, we want to do it.”
However, a community-minded event doesn’t just help the residents of Waverly. Doing charity work can help close the gap between the student athletes and the city community.
That’s where Day of Caring comes in. Helping restore a house in downtown Waverly shows that the student athletes are members of this community too.
“It’s really important to have the community see that college kids want to give back,” Keller said. “Sometimes there can be that division, you know? And we’re trying to bridge that gap, where the community understands that college kids want to be a part of this community too.
“For us, that’s important. It’s important for our guys to get out and make connections in the community and be a part of it.”
With the success of the first Day of Caring, it wouldn’t be surprising if a second rendition came next year.
Surely, the Knights will get another invitation.
“Honestly, it was fun man,” Keller said. “One of our guys brought a great, big speaker and we had music going. The best part about it for me as a coach was seeing their response to doing the work. Everybody had a smile on their face.”