Winning percentages, longevity and state titles are ways to measure a high school coach's legacy.
One could argue there is another, more important measuring tool to gage a coach's success.
If you use those three standards then Denny Kaatz won't need to worry about the mark he leaves on the Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines wrestling program now that he is retiring.
Scan many college wrestling rosters and you'll see the true value of Kaatz's work.
Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines head wrestling coach Dennis Kaatz reacted during the Section 7, Class 2A team quarterfinals Feb. 8 at Aitkin High School. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood
Peter Hayes, a 2002 graduate and state champion, is currently at Division I North Dakota State. Matt Lowers, Matt Gastecki and David Uselman are at Division III Concordia of Moorhead. Dustin Uselman wrestles for Division II Minnesota State Moorhead while Lee Lorentz is a member of the St. Cloud State University team.
Kyle Trout is currently ranked fourth in the nation at 157 pounds for Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids.
Those are former W-DC wrestlers competing in the college ranks. It doesn't account for all the former W-DC wrestlers who learned the trade from Kaatz and applied it at the next level.
"It means a lot to us as a coaching staff," said assistant coach Norm Gallant, who's been Kaatz's assistant for seven years. "It speaks a lot about the quality of kids we've had and the leadership and coaching that they've got from Denny. For those kids to go on they had to have some pretty good skills and that speaks to the quality of the program Denny's been able to run."
Kaatz has the additional qualifications to make him one of the state's legendary coaches. His 253-78 career record ranks 55th on the state's all-time list. He has guided the Wolverines to four state tournament appearances (1992, 2000, 2001, 2002). The team's first three trips resulted in consolation titles.
"It was fun wrestling for him," said Brian Trout, a state wrestler and member of the 1992 state team. "I enjoyed it a lot. He was just a good companion more than anything. He was someone you could talk with, whether it was sports or not."
In Kaatz's 19 years as head coach, six W-DC individuals have claimed state titles. It started with Matt Strawser in 1997 and 1998. The list also includes Jason Brueske (1998), Leland and Logan Brincefield (2001) and Hayes in 2002.
The 58-year-old Kaatz inherited a program in 1986 that compiled a 1-34 record the three previous seasons. He slowly built a reputable program.
Title: Head coach of Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines wrestling team
Career record: 253-78
State team appearances: Four
His first two seasons ended with 5-7 and 5-6 records. In his third season Kaatz's winning ways began with a 7-5 record. After that season W-DC never had a below-.500 record.
"You knew who was always in charge," said Matt Lowers, who wrestled for Kaatz for six years, then coached under him for two more years before heading to Concordia as a coach.
"He wasn't someone that was always yelling, but you knew who everyone respected. He made sure all of the other coaches had equal say, but you still knew who was in charge."
Lowers said it was competitive in the W-DC wrestling room. He said Kaatz knew what buttons to push for each wrestler and excelled at giving his team perspective. During December, Lowers said the team worked on the basics to get better so they were in position to do great things at the end of the season.
But, when things didn't go as planned, Kaatz still knew what to do.
"It was my junior year and I lost a match that I probably should have won, I beat him bad a week later, and we didn't go to state that year," said Lowers. "He pulled me aside on the bus and made sure I knew it wasn't my fault. He said that no one blamed me and that I was like a son to him.
"That was something that really stuck. He's been a father figure to me more so than anyone else. That will stick with me forever."
Kaatz was named 2001 Class 2A coach of the year and was Section 7 coach of the year four times. One of his more legendary accomplishments was ending the dominant Staples-Motley run of 15 straight state tournament appearances in 1991. That year the Wolverines defeated the Cardinals in the District 24 semifinals at New York Mills.
But it was during a meet at Wadena when things started to turn around.
"We were wrestling in Wadena and we had a pretty good team and we had beaten Wadena many, many times in a row and we were kind of expecting that we would win this time," said former Staples-Motley coach Don Dravis. "Well, their kids came out and took it right to us. They had a couple of guys beat who we thought were very good kids. It was a big upset and they just took it to us. I don't know the year, but that was the start of when Wadena became a very good wrestling program."
Said Kaatz: "1991 was the first time we beat them. We never beat them throughout the 1980s. It was just one of those matches. There was a lot of excitement and the gymnasium was full of people. It was probably the largest crowd to see a wrestling match here. There was close to 1,500 to 2,000 people in the stands. It was a big event."
While the Wadena/S-M rivalry was a heated one the coaches respected one another and found time to laugh.
"We were wrestling one another back in those days when it was the district tournament," said Dravis. "Back then there were so many teams that both of our teams were on the same side of the mat. Usually, you're on opposite ends.
"Well, I like to do a lot of moving around and Denny likes to do a lot of moving around. For some reason I stopped. I found myself in front of his team and he was coaching in front of my team. We just kind of looked at each other and laughed. It was a funny situation.
"When we went against one another as coaches we wanted to beat each other. But when it was over we were friends. When it was over it was over."
Said Gallant: "He's just been a tremendous mentor. The thing that impresses me about Denny is that he prepares like he's a brand new coach. He's watching video and learning things at camp. Even this year, his last, he's brought new things into the program and tweaked things that needed to be tweaked. His preparation has been a key thing. He's always prepared.
"Coaches are measured on wins, but Denny is so much more than wins and losses. Just the way he interacts with the athletes and the relationship he's built with the kids goes way beyond a wrestling coach."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5856.
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