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|
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|
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|
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.