The stories flow out of Tracy Dodson like he’s been coaching at Columbus Scotus for 30 years.
There’s the one from a few years ago about the first day of a new junior high program. Dodson expected maybe five or six wrestlers to show up.
“I had 21 kids looking up at me,” he said.
He remembers bringing a high school team in its first year as a program to its first weigh-in.
“They had no clue what a weigh-in even was,” Dodson said. “They didn’t know what underwear to wear.”
That’s what it’s like when you have a roster filled with athletes who have zero career varsity matches. Yet somehow the Shamrocks have found success in their first season of Nebraska high school wrestling.
It all got started in, of all things, a loss. In mid-January, Scotus tied Neligh-Oakdale, a school with a strong tradition in the sport. Although they’d eventually lose on criteria (Neligh-Oakdale had more pins), team members say it was the first time they recognized that something was building.
“After that dual, I could see our team coming together,” said freshman 145-pounder Marcus Dodson, who is the coach’s son. “No one wanted to lose like that again. We all started pushing harder.”
Other highlights included putting one in the finals at the prestigious High Plains Invitational. And a dual victory over O’Neill, ranked fourth in Class C.
Things really got rolling last month when Dodson’s group won the Centennial Conference Tournament in its first try.
“We get to conference and all of a sudden, we win the thing,” the coach said. “Then it was like we turned on the switch.”
At last weekend’s dual tournament at Fremont Bergan, Scotus upset Class D No. 2 Pender, a team with four returning state champions that finished second at state a season ago.
It’s heady stuff for a program less than a year old.
Dodson was head coach at Columbus High for a year in 2008-09 and an assistant there for years before that. He resigned his head coaching post because of a hazing incident among some wrestlers.
But in March, he got the green light from the Scotus school board to start a high school program there.
The school, traditionally heavy on football, basketball and soccer athletes, almost immediately embraced the sport. Dodson recalls bringing up the fact that a new mat would be needed for the season. A day later he was told that the funding was there for it.
Kids who may have lifted and run all winter gave wrestling a shot instead.
“I’ve never wrestled at all. I’ve never been interested in it,” senior Kyle Bonk said. “Everyone I talked to told me I wouldn’t be any good because I didn’t have experience. I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Bonk is 26-9 with 18 pins this season.
“These are kids that are out there naming their own moves,” Dodson said. “They’re just great athletes. We knew that there was something special about them.”
Now comes the biggest test for the Scotus program. The Shamrocks travel to York on Friday for the two-day District B-3 tournament. The host Dukes are ranked 10th in Class B. Also in the field is No. 4 Seward.
The majority of Dodson’s kids have never even seen the state wrestling tournament. Guys like Bonk have only heard stories.
“I’ve told them,” Marcus Dodson said, “but I don’t think they’re going to understand it until they are there.”
While his team might be playing with house money, Tracy Dodson isn’t ready for the Shamrocks to step away from the table just yet.
“I told all the kids to go home and dream,” he said. “I told them, ‘When you’re in bed, think about your perfect match. You guys have nothing to lose. You just go out there and you just keep on wrestling.’”
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