Listen to this post
MEEKER | If you attended the Warrior Classic in Grand Junction this year you likely picked up a copy of the third edition of the Colorado Wrestling Champions. If so, you were probably struck by the significance of the Meeker Cowboy wrestling program in the state, but you may not know the impact it has had on the community and its wrestlers.
Former head coach Joe Gutierrez commented on how wrestling helped him through the toughest time of his life after the loss of his daughter Natasha: “Had it not been for my wrestler mentality I would be a basket case or maybe not even be here.” Gutierrez won a state individual title in 1981 at 98 lbs. He’s the only 98 lb. champion Meeker has had or will ever have now that the lowest weight class is 106 pounds.
State wrestling championships began in 1936, when 45 wrestlers, regardless of school size, battled it out. In 1948 the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) enacted the 16-man bracket still used today.
Wrestling as a school sport at Meeker High School began in 1954. It was the first sport for which Meeker won a state championship team title and holds the most state titles of all sports in Cowboy history. The Meeker program was in its infancy in 1959 when the first state champion, Pat Sheridan (133 lbs.) was crowned under the instruction of head coach Paul Starbuck.
As a team the Cowboys are ranked eighth out of 198 teams and hold the most team titles. The first came in 1979 when the class divisions were AAA, AA and A; Meeker was class AA.
Bobby Gutierrez, who won titles at 112 pounds in 1978 and 119 pounds in 1979 — also the year he was selected as Most Valuable Player — recounts how “wrestling isn’t just a sport, it’s a family; to this day some of my best friends are the guys I wrestled with.” 1979 was also notable as it was the year Meeker won its first state title as a team. Team members that year were Gutierrez, Tad Sullivan, Brett Harvey, Tracy Tate, Dave Seely, Keith Nye, Tony Mazzola and Kai Turner. The team was led by 13-year head coach Bill Turner.
“Coach Turner instilled in us the drive to work hard, be respectful and develop as young men,” commented head coach JC Watt. “He was not just a coach for 13 years, he also was instrumental in developing the philosophy and ethos for all head coaches to date since his retirement.”
Meeker has had 61 state championships won by 48 wrestlers. Most notable are Keenan Turner in 1982, 1983 and 1984; Brandan Stewart in 1994, 1995 and 1996; Joe LeBlanc in 2005, 2006 and 2007; and TJ Shelton in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Shelton was the 19th wrestler in Colorado history to win four state titles; since his last championship that number has grown to 24. As a comparison, Meeker is in Region 1 class 2A with Cedaredge which has had eight titles, Dolores 11, Dove Creek eight, Hayden 36, Hotchkiss 22, Ignacia 13, Mancos two, North Park none, Norwood 12, Nucla four, Paonia 37, Rangely 10, Soroco 24 and West Grand 19.
Still there, but soon to be removed due to construction, is “the board” as Meeker wrestlers call it, which names all the state placers in Cowboy history. There are an additional 161 wrestlers who placed from Meeker, bringing the total medals to 221 of the 390 qualifiers.
Looking through the list of those who have won state titles, there’s a common theme: families building legacies for Meeker wrestling. The 2019 Meeker High School wrestling team is no different. Dax Sheridan (160) is great-nephew to the first title winner Pat Sheridan. Colby Clatterbaugh (182) is great-nephew to Gary Stewart (180) from 1968, nephew to Brandan Stewart, cousin to Jacob Stewart (185) in 1995, just to name a few. Connor Blunt (126) is nephew to Keenan Turner and Coley Turner (132) in 1988, cousin to Tyrell Turner (135) in 2003 and Sheridan Harvey (138) in 2017, plus his grandfather was long-time head coach Bill Turner. Elijah LeBlanc is nephew to Joe LeBlanc and Isaac LeBlanc, Trae Kennedy is brother to Tannen Kennedy who has placed three times, and both Kaden Franklin and Kaleb Neilsen had fathers or family members who wrestled for Meeker.
After their first title win in 1979, the Cowboys were awarded 14 more individual state titles before the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) dropped Meeker’s class to A in 1990 and the second team title was brought home after scoring 153.5 points.[a][b] Three team members won titles and the team brought a total of six medals home by Scott Williams, JC Watt, Willy Theos, Brian Lake, Ray Wood and Travis Stewart. That year’s head coach was Mike Tate.
From 1991 to 1994, CHSAA once again changed the classes slightly. Meeker won its third title during that period in 1994. Placing were Brandan Stewart, Gerald Oldland, Derrick Robinson, Chad Dare, Chad Morgan, Travis Nielsen, Danny Quinn, Jacob Stewart and Chris Schram. 1994 was year one of two years that Meeker won the state title under Mike Tate who placed in 1974 under Turner.
In 1995 Meeker moved up to Class 3A during the inaugural year of the current class structure and won the title for the second year in a row with Stewart, Jacob Stewart, Collin Robinson, Jason Raley and Danny Quinn.
In the early 2000s came a three-year winning streak from 2003 to 2005 under head coach Willy Theos. The 2003 title team placers were Trent Randall, Tyrell Turner, Ryan Clark and Lee Overton. In 2004 the placers were Tyrel Stout, Lee Overton, Ryan Clark, Cody Clark, Wyatt Sampson, Joe LeBlanc and Steve Rust. Then in 2005 the placers were Joe LeBlanc, Steve Rust, Cody Clark, Sampson, Tyrel Stout, Jeff Overton, Nick Ruckman and Abram Balloga.
The most recent team title came in 2016, the year Shelton brought home his fourth individual title, led by current head coach Watt. Team members from 2016 were TJ Shelton, Devon Pontine, Casey Turner, Tyler Ilgen, Sheridan Harvey and Chase Rule.
The Cowboys are still on Christmas break but will be back in action at home with a dual against Grand Valley on Jan. 9.
NOTE: This story has been updated from the original version to reflect that Mike Tate was the head coach of Meeker’s wrestling program in 1990, not Bill Turner.
By Tiffany Jehorek | Special to the Herald Times
MHS Wrestling Title Winners
1959: Pat Sheridan (133)
1962 and 1963: Ray McKee (180)
1967: Ron Taussig (138)
1968: Dick Watt (138)
1968: Gary Stewart (180)
1976 Rod Richardson (138)
1976: John Wix (185)
1977: Bren Sullivan (105)
1977: Steve Parr (119)
1978: Bobby Gutierrez (112)
1979: Tad Sullivan (105)
1979: Brett Harvey (112)
1979: Bobby Gutierrez (119)
1979: Tracy Tate (145)
1979: Dave Seely (185)
1981: Joe Gutierrez (98)
1981: Tony Seely (155)
1982, 1983, 1984: Keenan Turner
1983: Willie Rael (126)
1984: Stan Stewart (155)
1986: Chris Lines (167)
1987 and 1988: Lenny Klinglesmith (145, 155)
1988: Coley Turner (132)
1989 and 1990: JC Watt (130, 135)
1989: Brian Lake (145)
1989: Scott Springer (160)
1990: Scott Williams (103)
1990: Willy Theos (152)
1991: Travis Stewart (130)
1992: Ray Wood (140)
1994, 1995 and 1996: Brandan Stewart (160, 178)
1995: Jacob Stewart (185)
1998: Mike Thomas (140)
1998: Isaac LeBlanc (145)
1998: Sam Dare (189)
2000: Matt Brennan (145)
2003: Trent Randall (112)
2003: Tyrell Turner (135)
2003 and 2004: Ryan Clark (103)
2004: Tyrel Stout (125)
2004: Lee Overton (215)
2005, 2006 and 2007: Joe LeBlanc (145, 152, 160)
2005: Steven Rust (275)
2006: Cody Clark (145)
2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016: TJ Shelton (160, 170)
2016: Devon Pontine (182)
2016: Casey Turner (152)
2017: Sheridan Harvey (138)