Standing in the hallway behind a gymnasium at Canton-Galva High School Lance Engel ran what is usually a pretty dry meeting — going over some final instructions and admonishments for youth wrestling coaches who were about to spend their day helping kids between the ages of 5 and 14 through one of the last tournaments of the season.
“Thanks for being here,” Engel said. “... We are full. We hit the 600 limit and had to tell people no. That’s hard for me.”
He looked at each coach, whether they be seasoned veterans or first-timers, and expressed gratitude. And then he dropped the news.
“This will be my last one,” Engel said.
He and his wife have spent 31 years running the Mac Wrestling Club Invitational Tournament. Both are stepping away.
The announcement in the coaches meeting was met with a short, awkward silence — followed by thank yous for the work of the last three decades.
Engel will be spending a little more time taking care of himself.
“I was told a long time ago I need to relieve some stress for my blood pressure,” Engel said. “It started with the district director, the officiating and then it was the club and the tournament this year. … I will miss it. I will miss everything, the kids especially,”
He jokingly blames his wife, Lennie, for getting involved in the tournament — and for keeping it going this long. He also tells coaches when the tournament is full, it’s easier for her to say no to those who call to try and register a kid.
She, however, isn’t having it. She tells a different story.
“He missed coaching, and he wanted to coach,” Lennie said. “He wanted his son to wrestle and the guys who were coaching at the time backed out. One of his buddies talked him into coaching.”
The tournament features as many as 20 weight classes in each of five age divisions. Saturday in the morning there were eight mats going in the main gymnasium, and four others for older wrestlers in a second gym.
That’s a lot of wrestling.
“It takes a lot of people, a lot of hours and not much sleep,” Lance Engel said. “It is a little easier now with the computer systems. That can be intimidating to people who don’t get the hang of it sometimes. … We set a limit at 600 because of what the building can handle. I personally never liked going to tournaments that ran over, got too hot or had lots of people crowded in. We try and keep a good tournament so people will keep coming back.”
He said the tournament is a key fund-raiser for the McPherson Wrestling Club, and that group is who will need to take the reins and keep the tournament moving forward in the future.