For Eric Whitcome, the 2018-19 school year has been a special one.
In the last few years alone, Whitcome has won state titles in boys’ wrestling and girls’ wrestling.
On June 21, his coaching honors continued to pile up, as he was recognized by the Des Moines Register as the All-Iowa Coach of the Year, for all sports and all classes.
It’s an honor that he didn’t see coming.
“I was shocked when I received that honor,” Whitcome said. “It’s something that I never really dreamt of or thought was even possible. It was a pretty amazing experience.”
At the awards ceremony, which was held at Wells Fargo Arena on June 21, Whitcome was overwhelmed with the support he received from athletes, family and those on his coaching staff.
Several Go-Hawk wrestling coaches made the 125-mile trek to Wells Fargo Arena to support their head coach, which caught Whitcome by surprise.
“My entire coaching staff showed up, unknown to me that they were going to be there,” Whitcome said. “Having them show up without even telling me was pretty awesome and just shows not only commitment to the program but commitment that we have to one another – it’s a pretty awesome feeling. That right away, took my breath away. They were trying to sneak in without me knowing, and I spotted them. That was pretty awesome and having those guys there for the evening.”
Whitcome was one of three finalists for the All-Iowa Coach of the Year award, along with Des Moines Hoover softball coach Melissa Feuerbach and North Linn boys’ basketball coach Mike Hilmer.
Prior to being announced as the All-Iowa Coach of the Year award winner, Whitcome had his doubts about earning the honor.
Then, the words resonated throughout Wells Fargo Arena: “And the winner is, Eric Whitcome, Waverly-Shell Rock.”
“Getting to get up on stage and talk to all of the great athletes and coaches that were in the audience was probably a little more nerve-wracking than I thought,” Whitcome said. “There was about 10,000 things that I wanted to and should say, but I only had about 60 seconds to say my piece and be done.”
One of the accomplishments of Whitcome’s 2018-19 season was the start of the girls’ wrestling program at Waverly-Shell Rock.
The Go-Hawks won the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association’s (IWCOA) state wrestling tournament on Jan. 19 with 144 team points and two individual champions: Annika Behrends and Avery Meier.
Whitcome said girls’ wrestling had been gaining ground across the state, and he knew that Waverly-Shell Rock wanted to be at the forefront of the growth of girls’ wrestling.
“I think it says that as a coach, you are doing the right things to help your program have success,” Whitcome said. “Part of that was taking a big step forward with girls wrestling this year. I think that was a major contributor to it. As I’ve said, we want to be the leader in a growing sport, and so we took that plunge this year. At the same time, it means that I have a lot of good people working in the program and contributing in ways that are making our program run at a high level and be very successful.”
After he received his award, he had the unique opportunity of meeting Iowa great Kurt Warner, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017, after an 11-year career in the NFL. Warner also played collegiate football at the University of Northern Iowa.
Whitcome said meeting Warner was a special experience.
“The two to three minutes that I got to talk with Kurt, he seemed like an extremely humble man,” Whitcome said. “He asked me before I had to take off, ‘When did you know that you wanted to coach? I’ve got some theories on it, but I want to hear how you got into the sport.’ We spent a couple of minutes talking about it. It was really awesome. He was a guy that had played at the highest level of his professional sport, and he asked me a question during the photo shoot. It was a pretty awesome experience.”
For Whitcome, who led the Go-Hawks to their sixth traditional team title and 10th overall state title, coaching at a high level requires sacrifice.
The sacrifice Whitcome has made throughout his coaching career is countless hours coaching athletes, organizing travel plans and communicating practice plans with his fellow coaches.
On behalf of the betterment of the athletes he has the opportunity to coach each season, it’s a sacrifice that Whitcome is more than willing to make.
“I think every coach, there is a sacrifice of time,” Whitcome said. “They have to sacrifice some of their personal life and things that come with coaching. I personally believe that I probably make more sacrifices than most. I think that’s the reason why you dedicate as much time to a program as I feel I do, that can be from coaching athletes to organizing whatever it may be – the time and commitment I think is done at an entirely different level.”
The 2002 Waverly-Shell Rock graduate just finished his eighth year as the head coach of the Go-Hawk wrestling program.
He did so in a notable manner and is looking forward to more in the future.
“There is a lot of things that I want to get done yet, and it [the award] didn’t take getting this motivation to have my eye on those things,” Whitcome said. “I think the award, to me, just meant that people recognized that we are doing something different, and I am putting forth the effort and vision to be doing it different than most people. To me, it’s just kind of an acknowledgement of what I and the program are doing, which feels nice. But, it doesn’t change the vision or the motivation that I have and where I want to see things continue to go.”
Janesville’s Shelly Sorensen, Denver’s Camden Krueger also earn All-Iowa awards
The area was also represented by Shelly Sorensen, Janesville’s head volleyball coach and Camden Krueger, a sophomore at Denver High School.
Sorensen, the 28-year veteran coach, was honored as the All-Iowa Volleyball Coach of the Year, while Krueger took home the All-Iowa Courage Award.
The 2018 volleyball season was historic for Janesville, as the Wildcats brought home their fourth-straight Class 1A volleyball state championship. This season also marked Janesville’s ninth-consecutive trip to the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids — including two trips to the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena during the main venue’s renovation — for the Class 1A state volleyball tournament.
This season, the Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 all season, finished the year with a 46-5 record and had three players named to the Class 1A All-Tournament Team: Lily Liekweg, Bree Thompson and Alisa Bengen.
Noted as “one of the highlights of the All-Iowa Sports Awards,” the All-Iowa Courage Award is presented to “athletes who overcome tremendous obstacles on their way to success.”
Krueger, a visually-impaired wrestler for the Cyclones, was born with bilateral congenital cataracts and is considered legally blind.
Because of his visual impairment, Krueger is allowed to use the “touch rule,” a rule that ensures both competitors maintain contact at all times throughout the match.
During his second season on the wrestling mat for Denver, Krueger finished the season with a 25-8 record, as he wrestled at the 195 and 220-pound weight classes. Throughout the season, 20 of Krueger’s 25 victories were by fall. Krueger came in third place at the Class 1A, Section 2 tournament, after falling to Isaac Steffans of Postville by an 8-1 decision and bouncing back in the third-place match with a fall over South Winneshiek’s Zach Poshusta in 1:38, falling just short of qualifying for the district tournament.
The Cyclones qualified for the Class 1A state dual tournament and made their way to the final bout against Don Bosco back on Feb. 13. However, the Dons would take home gold, as they defeated No. 2 Denver, 48-18.
Denver also brought home third place in the 1A traditional tournament, as 10 state individual qualifiers, Joe Ebaugh (106), Brooks Meyer (113), Jacob Moore (120), Isaac Schimmels (126), Gabe Lewis (132), Riley Wright (138), Logan Meyer (145), Cael Krueger (170), Trevor Dorn (195) and Brock Farley (285).
The Des Moines Register hosts the annual All-Sports awards ceremony and winners are selected by an All-Iowa voting panel that includes top high school sports leaders across Iowa and the high school sports staffs of the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.