For everything Denny Kaatz accomplished as head coach of the Wadena-Deer Creek wrestling team, it will be the things he didn't do that he'll remember.
"There's not any one thing I will remember the most," said Kaatz. "The state tournament teams and getting there were always pretty exciting. I think just looking back at the achievements that the individual wrestlers accomplished, that's probably more satisfying to me."
Kaatz, a retired W-DC teacher, is now retiring from coaching. He began his tenure in 1986. His list of accomplishments include: Four Class 2A state tournament appearances, six individual state champions, one 2A coach of the year selection, four section coach of the year awards and the 55th-best winning percentage in the state.
Kaatz's first goal was to change the program's attitude. Kaatz and his coaching staff emphasized a team atmosphere.
"We had a set plan," Kaatz said. "The elementary program had started a couple of years before I became head coach so we started getting some good young kids into the program, kids that were really smart.
Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines coach Dennis Kaatz gave advice to Kevin Trout during the 215-pound match in the Section 7, Class 2A team quarterfinals Feb. 8 at Aitkin High School. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
"The first couple of years we had a lot of kids that were National Honor Society kids. They were very coachable and they bought into what we were trying to do. Then they brought in a lot of other athletes."
In Kaatz's first season there were 20 wrestlers in the program. Five years later 50 athletes filled the wrestling room.
Once Kaatz had the team atmosphere, then he taught the kids how to win.
He did this with not a lot of experience himself. Kaatz began wrestling his sophomore year in high school. It was the first year his school offered the sport. He said neither of his co-coaches had wrestling experience.
"There was a lot of experimenting," said Kaatz. "But learning the art of coaching wrestling is more than just teaching technique. You have to be able to deal with kids and keep them enthused and interested."
One way to do that is to teach them how to win. And Kaatz won 253 times in his career. His team ended the legendary state tournament run of the Staples-Motley Cardinals in the early 1990s.
But Kaatz realized he didn't do it himself. Mike Kenny and Jerry Breid have been coaching with Kaatz since the beginning. The trio formed a partnership that helped W-DC dominate the 1990s. Kaatz said Kenny was the great motivator, while Breid was the tactician. The three utilized their strengths to get the most out of their athletes.
It didn't hurt that W-DC had great athletes and it will be those athletes Kaatz will miss.
"They were loyal and they worked so hard to achieve the goals that they had set for themselves," he said. "I'll remember that the most. The kids that worked through a lot, overcame injuries and other things. We always talked about adversity and how overcoming it builds character and strength. Those early years we had to overcome a lot of adversity to have success."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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