There is something special being built at Hillsboro High School. What’s being constructed isn’t with brick and mortar, but through sweat, hard work, and determination. The Hillsboro wrestling program had a tremendous campaign in 2019-20, and the future looks bright with all the work that is being done with younger age groups.
The Hillsboro Wrestling Club has turned into a tremendous feeder program for the high school. And the older squad is starting to reap the benefits, as the Hawks finished second in the district tournament, sent seven individuals to state, finished tenth as a team, and had a state champion (freshman Gavin Alexander). “Over the last ten years, Missouri’s youth wrestling programs have gotten a lot better and competes with some of the better states now,” Matt Mitchell, HHS head wrestling coach commented. “I would say about three years ago, things really started to pick up with our youth club as far as results, but those guys have been working really hard for a long time to make it happen. I think you are seeing years of hard work starting to really transform into something special for the whole program. And there are a lot of different people that have been part of that.”
Like Dennis Alexander. He’s been around for a lot of the development of the youth program, and it all started with a trip to the grocery store. “Jim Williams ran into me at Queens grocery store and said that we have a wrestling team that we’ve started, and he thought that I would be perfect for the job,” Alexander reminisced. “I have been a part of this team 11 of the 12 years that we have been around. At the time, Scott Schuyler, and later, John Akers were the two coaches that we had. We’ve added many since then. One that’s been around as long as I have is Jeff Litzsinger. We are the longest tendered coaches HWC has had.”
If the names Alexander and Litzsinger sound familiar, they should. Dennis is the father of the aforementioned Gavin Alexander, this year’s state champ. And Jeff’s son, Dalton Litzsinger, has had a prolific first two years as a Hawks wrestler, including two state appearances. So right there, it’s easy to see the connection and influence the Hillsboro Wrestling Club has had.
And sophomore-to-be Griffin Ray, a state qualifier as a high school freshman, knows the club has been a big part of his success. “HWC means a lot to me,” he stated. “It’s where I grew up wrestling, and what I love about it most is how we are a family. Every coach is there for you if you need them, and it’s just a great wrestling community we have here at Hillsboro.”
If it weren’t for the pandemic, the HWC would have more than likely brought home a lot of hardware. The club had 14 wrestlers qualify for USA State, the youth equivalent of the high school state championships. The tournament was canceled because of Covid-19. “We have a great thing going for sure,” Alexander stated. “If I had to rank our team, I feel we are a top 10 team, if not better, every year. Keep in mind, we are about 97% Hillsboro kids with a few Festus, Northwest, and Windsor kids sprinkled in. We draw from such a small area and compete with bigger teams all over the state. There are kids driving two hours to go to practice in the Kansas City area. We are who we are…small town and tough. We had a motto a long time ago that we all liked: We Bust Ours To Kick Yours.”
Those 14 wrestlers may have missed out on some accolades, but it hasn’t slowed the momentum of the club. Dedication seems to be the key word, at least according to Jeff Litzsinger. “I was involved from the very first day,” he commented. “I could look back and find pictures of myself coaching Dalton while holding Evan (his younger son) with a bottle in his mouth. It has truly been a way of life for our family.” Evan Litzsinger, who wrestles in the 12U division, is a two time state champ, and has qualified for USA State six out of the seven years he has wrestled, as well as earned a medal and a spot on the podium every year. To be honest, he only missed his first year because of being too young (five years old). Evan mentioned he gets a lot out of his role within the HWC. “I like the friendships I’ve made, and the hard work it takes to be successful. It helps you for your entire life and teaches respect. The best thing is, everyone knows everyone as one big family.”
One thing that wrestling does teach a young boy or girl is independence. “Wrestling isn’t like any other sport,” 14U wrestler, Jeffrey Harrison said. “It’s just you and one other person. There is no one to blame but yourself for the loss, and no sweeter victory than winning hand to hand combat.” Another 14U wrestler, Chris Bentrup agrees. “The competitiveness is what I like. It’s a tough sport. You have a team and coaches, but when you’re on the mat, it’s just you. You take everything you learned in practice, then you find out if you worked hard enough. You learn what you need to work on, and it makes me focus on being the best ME that I can.” This year Bentrup was third in AAU, first in USA districts, second at USA regionals, and made it to USA State before things got canceled.
Parents see the benefits of the discipline of wrestling. CJ Bauer wrestles at 12U and is a two time state qualifier. He was district champ this year as well, and his dad, Josh Bauer, knows his son is learning important lessons. “My hope is that he understands that you will always have to work hard for whatever you want to achieve in life,” he pointed out. CJ said he gets a lot out of being a part of the Hillsboro Wrestling Club. “I love the competition each week, and all the friends that I have made along the way,” he said. “We have a great family at HWC. The coaches are great since they dedicate three nights a week, and all of their weekends from December until March.”
The coaches…there’s really only one reason they do what they do. “I would say our coaches, from youth to junior high and high school are part of the Hillsboro wrestling culture,” Coach Mitchell explained. “The kids are a part of that as well as the parents. We want people to view Hillsboro as a place to come for wrestling. Our youth coaches do an outstanding job teaching the basic wrestling skills. It’s more than that though. Teaching them things like respect, determination, and resilience are all also important parts of developing as a wrestler and kid. Wrestling is so much more than learning what a takedown is, or a half is, and our youth program does a great job of doing more and caring about all of our kids, no matter what the experience level.”
Ben Litterall‘s son, Dawson Litterall, wrestles 10U for the HWC. “We moved to Hillsboro in 2019,” the elder Litterall stated. “Dawson was on another team for three years prior. We knew some of the coaches on the Hillsboro Wrestling Club, and making the switch was the best thing we could do for Dawson. He took to the Hillsboro team even better than we imagined.” There’s no doubt about that. Dawson has accumulated a 160-28 record with 100 pins. He’s currently ranked as the #1 wrestler at 10U in the state of Missouri. He said it’s like he’s grown up in the club all along. “They have become family to me,” Dawson exclaimed. “It’s smaller, so it’s more one on one. All of my coaches have a way of pushing me in their own way to make me be the best.”
Nicole Reiter‘s son, Mason Reiter, also wrestles 10U. She noted that, from the very start, the coaches had open arms for her family. “Mason started wrestling as a kindergartener at age five in the fall of 2014,” she noted. “Mason’s dad and I had no idea what we were getting into, but Mason wanted to give it a try, so we took him to the first practice. Coach Alexander had no idea of all the kids’ names the first night of practice, of course. Mason wore a shirt with a shark on it, and Dennis called him Sharkboy. That nickname stuck, and to this day, we go to events in town, wrestling tournaments, and people not even from our HWC club call him Sharkboy!” Reiter said those little things add up. “The club immediately welcomed us in. We realized very quickly just how much of a family the HWC group really is. All of the families get to know each other. We often sit together at tournaments and events, and cheer for all of our kids as if they are our own. It’s an amazing group of folks. We support all of our team and families, both on and off the mat. I currently sit on the board for the club, and volunteer as much as possible to help support wherever I can. I absolutely love our club.”
Before anyone starts thinking the HWC is just turning out robotic wrestlers, the club encourages participation in other sports. Jeffrey Harrison plays football and baseball, while Chris Bentrup participates in baseball, football, and track & field. Dawson Litterall plays football, as does CJ Bauer.
Griffin Morris enjoys baseball and football. Griffin is 12 years old and has been wrestling for the Hillsboro Wrestling Club since he was six years old. It was a family affair, as his older brother, Evan Morris, participated as well. Evan was a state qualifier for the Hawks this past season as a freshman, and his brother seems to be headed in the right direction. Griffin was 22-4 this season and has 176 career wins. He’s placed five times at USA State, and won his weight class once. Last year, he had a 44-1 record and is a three time AAU state champion. His dad, Chris Morris, said the HWC coaches have been amazing for his sons. “Griff is very much a clown and a goofball. but his head coach, Dennis Alexander, has embraced that and found a great way to connect with him. I couldn’t be more pleased of how Coach Alexander as well as Coach Bauer have harnessed his energy and gave him direction.”
And those coaches don’t consider anyone an outsider. Both Jeffrey Harrison and Chris Bentrup go to other schools. Harrison to Northwest, while Bentrup attends Festus. “I’m from Festus and they’ve accepted me 100%,” Bentrup stated. “I’ve always felt that they are in my corner when I need them. When I’m down they have always helped me up.”
And those are the types of things that happen when relationships are built early. According to Coach Mitchell, it’s a key element of a wrestler’s success. “I think it’s important for kids to have some exposure, especially before high school,” he explained. “It’s really important for the kids that are varsity impact kids right away as freshmen. I always tell my freshmen, and the whole team for that matter, that we are not going to wait until they have developed technically to be good right now. I think sometimes we think about the future too much, and how great we could be in a year or two years. I always say to forget that and go be great right now as a freshman or sophomore. Let’s not wait to be good, but put the work in now. Having the youth club experience allows some of our kids to really take that mindset and run with it. Kids that have never wrestled before are probably not going to be huge impact kids for a high school team right away.”
And according to Coach Alexander, the high school Hawks are driven by a very special leader. “He is the best in the business,” Alexander commented, “and I’m sure it’s easy for me to say that because he does coach my son. But a huge part of all of these kids’ success is the care and the time that he takes with every kid. In high school, obviously, he has more time with them. But he can come to the youth practice and know most, if not all, of the kids’ names. Find me a coach that can do that…there’s not many out there that put the time in that Coach Mitchell does.”
The work, the effort, and the endless hours are made worthwhile with every triumph. And those triumphs don’t have to be victories on the mat. Overcoming obstacles, whether in the practice room or in non-wrestling scenarios, means just as much.
“We enjoy seeing his work turn into positive results,” Ben Litterall said of his son, Dawson. “It really shows on his face. And that’s the best feeling for a parent.”
2020 USA State Qualifiers
- Kosta Hatzigeogiou–10U–65 lbs.
- Damian Frank–10U–70 lbs.
- Eli Petit–10U–95 lbs.
- Mason Reiter–10U–100 lbs.
- Dawson Litterall–10U–110 lbs.
- Cyrus Broullard–10U–120 lbs.
- Evan Litzsinger–12U–65 lbs.
- CJ Bauer–12U–105 lbs.
- Griffin Morris–12U–140 lbs.
- Aidan Black–14U–110 lbs.
- Sam Richardson–14U–120 lbs.
- Jeffrey Harrison–14U–165 lbs.
- Chris Bentrup–14U–175 lbs.
- Aidan Petit–14U–175 lbs.
All photos provided by the parents of the wrestlers