Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Coach Sid Huitema: Founding Father of West Michigan Wrestling (And You’ve Never Heard of Him)

By Ryan Lancaster, MWR Founder

I think tradition and history are important for our sport. When I took over at West Ottawa a few backs, I spent the first year digging through all the old yearbooks and school newspaper (The aptly named West Ottawan) to see what past I could dig up. After 50 years, its easy to see which coaches cared about the program and which didn’t by the records they left. I stumbled upon an old article simply titled “Wrestling” from a guy named Sidney Huitema. In it, details why everyone should try wrestling (and why it isn’t for everyone). I dug a little deeper and realized he was the founder of the program at the school. I wanted to see what I could find so I pulled on the string a little more. The following is what unraveled:

Huitema at West Ottawa in 1966
Sidney John Huitema Jr.  was born Dec. 25, 1936, in Yankton, South Dakota to Sidney and Adeline Huitema. He was the third child born in a family of five. He graduated from Yankton High School in 1954 and went on to Southern State Teachers College in Springfield, SD. It’s worth noting the school changed its name to University of South Dakota at Springfield in 1971 and eventually ceased to exist by 1984. The campus is now home to Mike Durfee State Prison, which is named for a star athlete and teacher at the school. I am uncertain IF he wrestled for the Pointers, but it was clear that he had a passion for the sport regardless. After graduation, he moved to Michigan his began his teaching and coaching career, which lasted over 40 years.

He landed at West Ottawa High School in Holland Michigan in 1965. As records tell me, he was a stern disciplinarian that found little success with a varsity program. At the helm of the team, in the first held match in history the Panthers were impressive as they held Grand Rapids West Catholic to 24-24 tie. Huitema also won their very first home match against Byron Center (35-15) in front of 150 fans, but a winning season would still elusive to the Panthers for quite some time. Regardless, he set up a rigorous diet plan and training schedule as well as insist that cheerleaders were at each meet to cheer on the varsity and junior varsity.

Perhaps not a noteworthy tenue for a high school coach, mind you. But what is rather fascinating is that he built the West Ottawa program and the exact same time he built the Hope College wrestling program across town. But as the school paper for Hope College call the Anchor put it back in 1967:

“Wrestling at Hope College has had a very short and quite dismal history. Started officially two years ago, the sport has never captured the same interest and support as Hope's other athletic activities and has failed to produce a won-lost record comparable to Hope's other teams. Why does Hope fail to attract competent men to their wrestling teams? Why has wrestling never seemed to have incited the excitement which exists on large universities? Probably, the greatest factor which has stifled interest in wrestling has been the lack of adequate practice facilities. During this past season, facilities did not exist on campus to quarter the practice of the team. All practice was at West Ottawa High School, which is a 10-minute drive from campus.”

Huitema with Hope College in 1967
Huitema stepped down from both West Ottawa and Hope College in 1967. Before he left the Dutchmen, he seemed concerned about the program. "Next year the league will be operating under an Olympic start, " said Huitema in ‘67, "and if an inexperienced man is coaching the team, Hope's record probably will not improve. " Commenting on the new facilities that would eventually be built, Huitema said that "showers and other essentials are going to have to be built if the College is serious about improving practice facilities." It seemed he wanted to go to a program that would give him what he needed to succeed. Hope College eventually dropped wrestling by 1984.

From 1967-73 Coach Huitema became the inaugural Muskegon Junior College head coach. His record there speaks for itself: 2 MCCAA Team Championships, 23 MCCAA Individual Champions 23, 7 Region XII Individual Champions, 14 NJCAA All Americans and 3 NJCAA National Champions. Some other of his highlights were Mike Shearer won the NJCAA National Championship as a sophomore at 123 lbs. with only 2 points being scored against him during his six matches. And let’s not forget that he coached NJCAA Hall of Fame heavyweight, Chris Taylor during this time. Chris went on to winning the bronze medal in Munich at the 1972 Olympics (But that is another story...).

Huitema at FIU in 1973
By 1973 Sid Huitema’s Michigan coaching career had met its end; launching 3 new West Michigan programs and coaching an Olympian. But his career was far from over. He moved south to Florida to coach at Florida International University in Miami. The program was a short-lived one, just 3 years later and 33 dual wins and the D1 program shuddered its doors (luckily they have a NCWA program still). He finished up his days at Southwest High School in Miami, where he coached Ivan Huergo to an AAAA State Title (Huergo went on to wrestle at Oklahoma as a Sooner).

Coach Huitema, passed away on July 29, 2017 in Florida. But his legacy lives on it the countless West Michigan student athletes that he inspired to be a part of the greatest sport.

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