For Colorado’s dominant small-school wrestling programs, consistency provides the framework for tradition

Defending Class 2A team champion Wray has dominated the state wrestling tournament, virtually locking up a repeat title with 126 points through day two and four wrestlers in Saturday’s finals at the Pepsi Center.

It would be the program’s 13th team championship overall, but it wasn’t too long ago that Wray lacked the edge that has come to define the state’s premier small-school programs. Before 2018, the Eagles’ last championship came in 1988, and the varsity team in the town of approximately 2,400 residents struggled with participation and interest.

“We had a couple years where we didn’t have any kids in one class, and only one kid in another class,” Wray coach Matt Brown said. “That was tough. Three years ago, we had eight kids — five freshman and three seniors.”

But Brown, a farmer by day who’s now in his 12th season as the Eagles’ coach, transformed Wray back into a wrestling power. With thirteen titles now all but ensured heading into Saturday, the Eagles will be tied with Rocky Ford and Class 3A Alamosa for the most championships in the sport in state history.

A close examination of those three programs reveal common threads to the 35 total titles they have combined to win, with that number likely to rise again should the Mean Moose clinch the 3A title on the tournament’s final day. Alamosa holds a 14.5-point lead over second-place Eaton.

Each team has consistency in coaching with Brown, Rocky Ford’s Mike Jurney (27th year) and Alamosa’s Gary Ramstetter (38th year). And each team has a junior wrestling program that serves as the central pipeline of talent and development to the high schools.

“The key is stability,” said Jurney, who brought a dozen qualifiers to state and last won the title in 2017. “Tradition and stability within the coaching staff — and within the junior high and kids programs — helps tradition on the mat, especially in these small towns.”

Rocky Ford also is an agricultural town — hence the Meloneers moniker — of about 3,900 residents, while Alamosa is larger at 9,600 and features the draw of tourism as well as a state university. But despite the three towns’ varying sizes, Wray, Rocky Ford and Alamosa have established themselves as small-school wrestling powerhouses using the same formula.

At Alamosa in particular, where the Mean Moose have won six titles since the turn of the century, Ramstetter has learned to leverage the city’s grassroots support for the sport into consistent success. There’s about 100 kids in Alamosa’s youth wrestling program in any given year, and Ramstetter brings his in son, Adams State coach Jason Ramstetter, to run offseason clinics with the Mean Moose.

“I’ve known all these guys since they were this high,” said Gary Ramstetter, waving his hand down by his knee and motioning toward his 11 qualifiers. “I’m not a Knute Rockne guy who gives big speeches or anything like that; never have been. … All the work and (culture) of the program has gotten them here. These guys are ready because of all that.”

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