A day like no other for PHS wrestlers

Posted 2/5/09

Each year, Urbach substitutes one of the Panthers' normal training sessions on the practice mats with a day of grueling, outdoor exercises and tasks similar to those used by the United States Navy's Sea, Air and Land Forces, commonly known as the …

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A day like no other for PHS wrestlers


{gallery}02_05_09/wrestlers{/gallery}Panther wrestlers (from left to right) Luke Wozney, Ren Utter, Charles Wittick and Cory Eden lift a pole over their heads during one of Monday's SEAL Day events. Tribune photo by David Dickey Urbach tests wrestlers' mental, physical toughness It's not often that the photo of a furry, white harp seal strikes fear into a person. Last Monday, however, it did just that to a number of young wrestlers at Powell High School. The harp seal image, one of many photos of docile-looking seals taped to the window next to the entry way leading into PHS head coach Nate Urbach's classroom, wasn't exactly the scary part. It was more a case of what it represented — SEAL Day — an event that has become a tradition for the Panther wrestlers.

Each year, Urbach substitutes one of the Panthers' normal training sessions on the practice mats with a day of grueling, outdoor exercises and tasks similar to those used by the United States Navy's Sea, Air and Land Forces, commonly known as the Navy SEALs.

Urbach, using training ideas obtained from his friend and Navy Seal Brad Krotz, began conducting SEAL Day events during his coaching stint at Rushville High School in Nebraska. When Urbach left there to take over the wrestling program at PHS, SEAL Day came with him.

“It's hard, and it's a lot of work,” said Urbach, who implements SEAL Day toward the end of the wrestling slate each year.

“At this point in the season, the guys are in pretty good shape, so it's more of a mental thing. It's not designed to break them. It's designed to prove to them that they can't be broken.

“It proves to them that they can get through it, and because of that, it's a good team-building event. No matter how hard it gets, nobody wants to quit because the guys around them are pushing through it. They get through it together.”

As one might expect, the first-year wrestlers are the ones that dread SEAL Day the most. The fun-loving intimidation tactics, like the photos of seals on Urbach's classroom window, go a long way in building nervous anxiety among the younger competitors. As for the veteran wrestlers, they take it in stride and get in their jabs while they can leading up to the start of the event.

In the case of juniors Auston Carter and Cole Kary, they simply removed a few of the seal images and ripped them up. In response, Urbach just laughed and bided his time until SEAL Day started after school Monday at Homesteader Park.

“More than anything, it really scares the young guys,” Urbach said. “They hear a lot about it from the ones who have been through it, but they still don't know what to expect. That's where the fear of it comes into play.”

Kurt Bullinger, a freshman, said he spent his time Monday dreading the ordeal. And like a number of his teammates, he struggled to push through the demanding tasks put before him during the almost two-hour event. During one task, which involved the wrestlers having to carry various-sized weights while running up a snow-covered hill, it looked as if Bullinger would break and throw in the towel. But his teammates and coaches urged him on and he completed that and the remaining tasks.

“I didn't even want to get up this morning,” Bullinger said the day after SEAL Day. “It was really hard, and I couldn't walk very well when I got out of bed. But I made it, and a feel a little tougher mentally because of that.”

Monte Nickles, a junior, has endured three SEAL Days. Because of that and due to his credentials as a first-chair performer as a trumpet player for the all-state orchestra and jazz bands, Urbach has labeled Nickles the toughest trumpet player in Wyoming.

“It was really bad my freshman year,” Nickles said. “That year, it was really hard on my legs. This year, my arms went out. It's hard to get through it, but it's a good thing because it does make us tougher.”

Nickles said it's not uncommon for him to conjure up memories of SEAL Day when he's facing a particularly difficult challenge on the mat.

Last year at the state tournament, Nickles found himself in a must-win situation, and he said thoughts of SEAL Day helped him push through for a victory, which helped the Panthers attain the Class 3A crown.

Added senior Cody Kalberer, “One of the things that helps us get through it is knowing that other teams aren't doing things like this. I think that gives us an edge, and it makes us a better team.”

SEAL Day ended with the wrestlers breaking into groups to conduct drills using poles that varied in weight. Though Urbach wasn't able to pinpoint an exact weight for each of the poles, he guessed that the heaviest one, known as Misery, probably would have tipped the scales at about 200 pounds.

After doing group lifts with the poles, each team was pitted against the other in a foot race. The team that lugged its pole across the finish line first was rewarded with a break. The last-place team or a team that violated one of the guidelines for the race, was forced to trade in its pole for the heavier, more burdensome Misery.

Though tired and cold once SEAL Day ended, each Panther looked to have an added step of confidence in their walk as they left Homesteader Park and ventured home.

“This group did a great job,” Urbach said when evaluating their performance. “Each year, they seem to get tougher. The first year we did this, I had a kid start crying about 15 minutes into it, and he didn't stop until it was done. But he made it.

That year, they weren't mentally ready for it. But as we keep doing it, they get tougher and stronger.”

And that, Urbach said, is why his teams not only want to win, but feel they deserve to win.

“It's one thing to want to win,” Urbach said. “It's another to go out and do the work needed to win.”