A Look at the Anatomy of Colorado’s Elite
On Saturday, February 23, 2019, three Colorado high school wrestlers were inducted into arguably the most exclusive club in the state’s prep sports scene: the Four Timers’ Club.
Pueblo County’s Brendon Garcia (4A), Greeley Central’s Andrew Alirez (4A), and Ponderosa’s Cohlton Schultz (5A) joined an elite group by winning their fourth consecutive state wrestling titles at Pepsi Center, each one receiving the customary standing ovation as their hands were raised.
The three were the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th members to join the club — and interestingly enough, they represented an interesting microcosm of the club and sport itself.
Garcia is the proverbial “lightweight,” winning his titles at 106 (three times) and 113 pounds.
Alirez is the “middleweight”, climbing the ladder as he won titles at 120, 126, 145, and finally 152 pounds.
Schultz is the “heavyweight,” winning two titles at 220 pounds before bumping up to the highest weight class, 285, for his last two crowns.
The three, who all happen to be NCAA Division I commits — Garcia to Wyoming, Alirez to Northern Colorado, and Schultz to Arizona State — took different paths to get there, but they all have a similar anatomy.
“I think all of us have to be pretty fearless,” Schultz said of himself and the fellow members of the club. “(We’re) ready and willing to put it on the line against anyone in every match.”
Interestingly enough, before this trio, there had never been more than two new members of the Four Timers’ Club inducted in the same year. Once again, they represent a microcosm of a recent trend, which is the recent spike in the amount of four-timers produced in the state in recent years.
There’s been at least one four-timer crowned at each of the past six state tournaments. In fact, nine of the state’s 24 total four-timers have come in the past 10 years — and 15 have joined the club over the last 15 years.
So, what’s the reason for the surge in elite-level wrestlers in Colorado?
“I’d say the biggest thing is that there’s a lot more of us travelling year-round to find the best competition, and we’ve been doing just that for a long time now,” said Schultz, proving his point while answering questions via Twitter direct message as he prepared to make his senior-level debut for the U.S. Greco-Roman team at the Thor Masters in Denmark. “If you want to be the best, you gotta do everything you can to find the very best competition.”
That sentiment seems to be shared by other members of the club. But in order to discover the true anatomy of four-timer, a deeper look into the mindset of those who accomplished this rare feat is required.
The Special Sauce
During the 1999 season, there was a scrappy lightweight from the Arkansas Valley who aimed to make history at the state tournament.
La Junta’s Jared Haberman pinned his way to the Class 3A 119-pound final. And then on February 20, 1999, with a 5-1 decision over Salida’s Tony Cordova, Haberman became the eighth member of the Four-Timers’ Club.
Now, 20 years later, there are three times as many members of that club. But Haberman, still active on the mat as a coach in Texas, recalls what it took to get there — and while talent and experience certainly went a long way, there is also the mental aspect that is of equal (if not greater) importance.
“As a wrestler, it was the thing that people said you couldn’t do,” Haberman said. “It was just putting your nose down and walking through punches left and right. For anyone who has ultimate success in our sport, we have to win the battle with ourselves.
“Nobody wants to get up at 5:30 in the morning and go for a run in 22 degrees. But when you want to be the best, there’s no question that you’re going to make that run. Because someone out there is going to.”
And then of course, there’s the “special sauce” — which contains everything from technique to fortune to a good immune system.
“I think back to it now, and every single thing just went right that night,” Haberman said. “It had to. It had to go right every time you were out there.
“You really have to have a bit of everything, the perfect special sauce all in one spot — the mental aspect, the psychology, technique, drilling, weight management. You have to put that all together. And then when you factor in injuries, being sick … You even have to have a little bit of luck.”
Haberman now spends his days trying to groom the next wave of state champions. He helped pioneer a Texas chapter of the Mile High Wrestling Club, which was founded in Colorado by Tom Clum and a group of high-level wrestler-turned-coaches. Schultz himself is among the athletes who have trained at MHWC.
And that commitment to give back, Haberman says, is another reason why the list of four-timers continues to grow.
“A lot of people are looking for someone to inspire them,” Haberman said. “Now we have these great coaches from all over — guys who are state champions, national champions, Pan Am champions, — all who are giving back. Now we have that expectation that we’re here to develop state champions. And it’s going to be hard work. But if you have a coach with that mentality, it’s hard to fail.”
The three athletes who joined the Four-Timers’ Club in 2019 had another thing in common: they all participated in just one sport.
Specialization is a point of contention among many in the prep sports scene, with arguments for and against often overshadowing the fact that student-athletes should do simply do what they feel is best for them.
But while the most recent trio opted to specialize, with glowing results to back their decision, there are other members who took a different route. As it turns out, the anatomy of a four-timer is not universal, but unique.
Crowley County’s Torben Walters, the 13th member of the Four Timers’ Club and now an assistant coach at Alamosa High School, won his state titles from 2002-2005. And he did it while participating in three sports — football, wrestling, and track — all throughout high school.
“Growing up in Iowa, I would wrestle nearly year round,” Walter said. “Wrestling is a very taxing sport on your body and mind. I think (being a multi-sport athlete) helped me enjoy my high school career much more than if I had just wrestled.
“The break from wrestling allowed my drive to be recharged, but I never fully took myself out of training at any time.”
Of course, Walters knew the value of mat time. Multiple times per week, he would head straight to the wrestling room after football practice to get in another workout, often with only his coach, Ed Rusher, to wrestle with.
But his first year of high school, his lack of mat time proved to be a critical turning point on his journey toward wrestling immortality.
“My first match of my freshman year, I lost,” Walters said. “I wrestled Jason Sams (a Roosevelt state champion) … I was beating him going into the third period, and I gassed out and lost. That loss motivated me for the rest of my high school career. I never wanted to lose another match because of my conditioning.”
As a coach, a former multi-sport athlete, and a four-time state champion, Walters still sees the value of mat time. And he sees it as a big reason why there are more and more members of the club every year.
“The group (of four-timers) might be growing, hut i would still say it’s quite an exclusive club. Think of the thousands of wrestlers who have wrestled in Colorado. And there are only 24 (in 60 years),” Walters said. “If you’d clock the hours of mat time these kids have, it’d be astonishing.
“I think there are a lot more kids in Colorado that are more serious about the sport of wrestling than they ever have been.”
Colorado vs. The Country
Colorado’s high school wrestling guru, Tim Yount, puts in thousands of hours each year watching, talking to, analyzing, and ranking wrestlers for his subscription service, On the Mat.
For decades, he has seen the list of multiple time state champions continue to grow, and grow, and grow.
He’s also seen the level of participation shrink, and shrink, and shrink.
Some may insinuate that there’s a correlation between those two trends — or that becoming a four-timer these days is somehow a watered-down accomplishment.
But like Walters said, think of the thousands of wrestlers who have stepped on the mat throughout the years. Or, to put it more simply, think of the 896 wrestlers who qualify for the state tournament each year.
The percentages aren’t exactly in the wrestlers’ favor. This year, for example, the three wrestlers who became four-timers represented 0.003 percent of the field.
“I am seeing many programs with fewer kids, that is sadly evident,” Yount said. “Today, only 30 percent of 5A schools can field a full slate of kids in every weight. But I don’t see that the quality is less because of it.
“To place in state is still hard to do regardless of class. You wrestle who is in your weight, and your class. That can’t be taken away from any athlete, and I don’t see that changing the value of any state medal.”
When comparing the amount of four-timers from Colorado with other big wrestling states, the numbers are actually still lagging.
In Ohio, for example, there have been 32 four-timers — including 15 over the past 10 years. In the wrestling mecca of Iowa, there have been 27. And 25 in Minnesota (12 in the last decade). And 33 in Oklahoma.
Next year, in 2020, there are four more Colorado athletes who have an opportunity to join the ranks of the Four Timers’ Club: John Mall’s Wesley VanMatre (2A), Pueblo East’s Andy Garcia (4A), and the Windsor duo of Dominic Serrano and Isaiah Salazar (4A).
The club continues to grow. And that’s a good thing, because Colorado wrestling continues to shine.
“I’d say (Colorado) is definitely one of the best,” Schultz said. “I think our best guys can hang with the best wrestlers anywhere.”
Colorado’s Four-Time State Wrestling Champions:
|Brendon Garcia||Pueblo County||2016-19|
|Andrew Alirez||Greeley Central||2016-19|
|Hunter Willits||Pueblo County||2014-17|
|Torben Walters||Crowley County||2002-05|
|Chad Romero||Fort Morgan||2001-04|
|Kyle Sand||Arvada West||2001-04|
|Chris Nissen||Standley Lake||2000-03|
|Jared Haberman||La Junta||1996-99|
|Joel Gilmore||Arvada West||1991-94|
|Brent Van Hee||Fowler||1983-86|
|Dale Stryker||Montrose/Grand Junction||1960-63|
Note: This story also appears in the latest version of the Colorado Preps Eastern Colorado Magazine. Check here to see if there is a distributor near you.