Chad Ripke had a week off from coaching.
That may not sound like big news anywhere outside the Ripke home, but it is. The Freeman coach has had just three such weeks over the past year. This week sits between the end of the state wrestling tournament and the opening next week of spring baseball season.
Ripke is the Freeman middle school football coach, as well as the head wrestling and baseball coach at Freeman High. Over the summer he coaches the Freeman American Legion team. Factor in practices and post-season tournaments, and it all fills out a calendar with few gaps.
It’s a full plate, and Ripke is quick to point out that he couldn’t handle a load such as this without the love and support of his wife, Angie, and his two daughters, 6-year-old Kaylee, 3-year-old Rilyn. The couple’s third child is due in July.
“She is awesome and my daughters are as well,” he said. “Again, without her blessing and support there is no way I would be able to coach as much as I do.”
As a football coach, Ripke provides the foundation upon which the high school steamrolled its way to the state Class 1A championship last fall. His baseball teams have enjoyed a great deal of success, and his Single A Legion team finished second in the state last summer.
But of the successes Ripke has forged in his nine seasons at Freeman, it is the Scotties’ wrestling team that shines brightest.
This season Freeman won its second straight league and regional championship, sending nine wrestlers on to the state tournament where seven of them placed, including Markus Goldbach, who placed second at 182 pounds. The team placed fifth overall, two team points behind league-rival Lakeside.
Considering the area is a hotbed for high school wrestling talent, it’s not a surprise to see a Spokane Valley school in contention at a state tournament.
But consider this, too: Just four years ago the Freeman wrestling team numbered six athletes.
“Freeman is a small school, and we don’t have the kind of summer programs or club wrestlers that bigger schools have,” Ripke said. “I don’t have anyone who wrestles club, as a matter of fact. We did have a little kids wrestling program, but we had to shut that down for the two years we were rebuilding the high school. It’s just now starting again.”
Freeman is a Class 1A school, but if a dozen students transferred out tomorrow, it would qualify as a Class 2B. In fact, there are just three Class 1A schools in the state closer to the line than Freeman.
While larger schools have dedicated wrestling rooms for their programs, Freeman uses the school’s multipurpose room, hauling practice mats in and out daily. During construction of the new high school, Ripke led practice sessions in the lunchroom of the middle school.
Getting numbers into the program at Freeman has long been a challenge.
The year before Ripke arrived, the Scotties finished the season with just eight wrestlers, but one of them was 112-pound state champion Danny Mathews. Because there was no one near his weight class in the tiny practice room, Mathews prepared for state by practicing against the team’s 145- and 152-pounders.
Recruiting is part of the job, Ripke said.
“I have great support from coaches in other sports, and the wrestling coaches have been great,” he said. “Wrestling and football go together so well. I’m always steering my middle school football players into wrestling.
“And I have to say that Freeman is an exceptional place. I don’t know if I could have lasted nine years, if this situation was different. The kids here are just great, and they’re willing to give things a try. They don’t always stick, but they give it a try.”
The state championship football team has a big presence on Ripke’s wrestling team.
Goldbach, a running back and the state Class 1A football player of the year, reached the finals, where he lost to year-round wrestling machine Cruz Del Angel of Kiona-Benton.
“It’s hard to believe that Markus is just a three-month wrestler,” the coach said. “In fact I was afraid I’d lose him his first year. He injured his elbow and I was afraid he’d figure wrestling would endanger his football career and would drop it. But instead, I couldn’t get him off the mat. He was out there working out with his arm in a sling.”
All-State lineman Teigan Glidewell placed fifth at 220 pounds. And Freeman quarterback Preston Hoppman placed seventh at 160.
“It’s unusual to see a quarterback wrestle,” the coach said. “They’re usually basketball guys, but Preston is a hard worker – he’s that kind of a leader.”
The Scotties are in excellent shape heading into next year, losing just two wrestlers to graduation.
But Northeast A League wrestling will change drastically next year. Great Northern League wrestling powers Colville and Deer Park will drop down to Class 1A.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Ripke said. “We’ve had a great rivalry with Lakeside and our program is even patterned after what they built at Lakeside. In wrestling you have to keep pushing yourself to get better. Having both Deer Park and Colville come into our league will push us to get better. I have good numbers coming back and I have a good group of wrestlers coming up from the middle school.
“I’m just so proud of our guys and what they’ve accomplished to get to the point where we could challenge for a state title.”