As the 2022-23 wrestling season pauses for winter break, Benton Community coach Gene Pilcher and staff have the Bobcats in a favorable position. Benton has won duals over Iowa City Regina and South Tama, and also won a recent tournament.
“These wrestlers have bought into what we as a coaching staff have preached since day one,” Pilcher said. “We’re lucky as coaches to have kids that are willing to work hard. It’s just about getting better every day together.”
Pilcher is in his first season as head coach of the Benton wrestling program, accepting the position after Jake Voss left earlier this year to return to his alma mater, West Delaware, after two seasons helming the program. Pilcher was coaching at the middle school level and assisting with the high school when possible. Between being involved in both programs, he grew close to the wrestlers and knew he wished to continue the traditions laid out by the past two coaches.
“We were gaining a lot of traction under Coach Voss,” Pilcher said. “I really didn’t want these returning wrestlers done. I called the other assistants to see if they were staying around, and applied for the position. We decided to keep this going and be here for the kids.”
A native of Fairfield, Pilcher was highly involved in both baseball and wrestling from a young age. He chose to pursue baseball in college, but ultimately was unable to participate due to an injury and instead focused on his studies.
“I was away from wrestling for 10 years before we moved to Atkins and I was asked to help with the youth program by Coach (Bob) Murphy,” Pilcher said. “When he left and Coach Voss took over, Voss talked me into coaching the middle school program. He’s a good friend of mine to this day, and I didn’t want to let him down.”
Pilcher coached the current freshman and sophomore classes while at the middle school, making the transition fully to the high school slightly easier and exciting.
“We’re growing in this thing together,” Pilcher said. “I find that really neat. We have a great group of upperclassmen with them who know what the expectations are: focus on improvement, not the results.”
But Pilcher isn’t doing this alone. Coach Telgenhoff is currently coaching the middle school team while Coach Mello and Coach Woods work alongside Pilcher at the high school level. He credits the staff for being the reason the Bobcats can continue to build their program’s momentum despite the coaching changes over the past three years.
“Our vision is to develop an elite mindset, to always want to get better,” Pilcher said. “Every day, we want to be the best version of us. Things can be hard, but wrestling should also be fun. Those two words aren’t mutually exclusive. Hopefully, a lot of different people see that and we can continue to grow our numbers, get more kids interested in wrestling who would never have considered it before.”
The staff reaches that demographic by hosting youth night for the younger wrestlers and also feature the Benton Dance Team between the JV and varsity matches. The dance team is coached by Pilcher’s wife, Beth, and both hope to have programs the community can be proud of.
“We want to get to a point where parents sign their kids up for wrestling because they want them to be a part of the vision we have,” Pilcher said. “We’re making a concerted effort to build relationships with the youth in our communities and to get them excited about wrestling. Our youth wrestlers now wear the same singlet as our MS and HS wrestlers which is part of “power of the unit” but we also hope it has an impact of kids growing up wanting to be a Benton high school wrestler.”