Viroqua’s own Jon Ames is the head coach of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire men's wrestling team.
Ames, a 2006 graduate of Viroqua High School, attended the Bi-State Classic, Dec. 28-29, 2012. He was there to scout potential, future recruits, but he also got to see a few familiar faces. His high school wrestling coach, Eric Anderson, was one.
After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the Blugolds’ first-year head coach wrestled at Bi-State. When Ames was senior at Viroqua, he placed fifth at the 2005 tournament. He was wrestling a new weight, 140 pounds, and won the fifth-place match, defeating Justin Peterson of Holmen, 2-1, in overtime.
After Bi-State, Ames went on a 28-win tear through the rest of the Blackhawks’ schedule, ultimately wrestling at the 2006 individual state tournament at the end of February.
At state, Ames won his preliminary match, 8-4, over Matt Filtz of Wittenberg-Birnamwood, but fell 3-0 to Eric Ogi of Kewaskum in the quarterfinal round. He then was edged, 6-4, by Cody Friemoth from Neillsville in the wrestleback.
Ames might have missed out on the medal stand, but just wrestling at the Kohl Center is still major highlight for him from high school.
Another favorite memory for Ames was wrestling in the team sectional. Viroqua made it three years in a row in Division 2 from 2004-06.
"That was a lot of fun just seeing how well our team could compete with the best in the state," Ames said.
The "best" Viroqua saw at the 2006 team sectional was Lodi. Viroqua lost to Lodi all three of those years: once in the sectional semifinal in 2006 and twice in the sectional final in 2004 and 2005.
Ames said his senior year was a fun year, and he ended his four-year Blackhawk wrestling career with a record of 112-47.
But, Ames wasn't done wrestling.
He wrestled one year at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, after which he transferred to UW-Eau Claire in the fall of 2007 and wrestled three years as a Blugold.
Ames wrestled at 157 pounds all four years in college.
At Eau Claire, he amassed a record of 33-53 between 2007-10 and was a three-time scholar athlete.
At the end of the 2009-10 winter season, Ames still had two years to go academically, but his wrestling days weren’t completely over.
Ames had used up his athletic eligibility, but stayed on as part of the UW-Eau Claire wrestling team as a student assistant coach.
Two years later in 2012, Ames graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in biology and a minor in environmental science and became the head coach of the Blugold men’s wrestling team. Not a bad gig for a 25-year-old, recent college graduate.
Ames said when the opportunity to coach presented itself, he couldn't pass it up.
Anderson couldn’t be any prouder of Ames.
“Jon was an excellent wrestler for us,” Anderson said. “Very steady, very hard-working, down-to-earth kid, and very proud of what he’s accomplished in college and moving on to coaching... He’s earned everything he’s gotten.”
It was Eau Claire, which provided Ames the tools to get his degree and then asked Ames to step in as head coach.
But it was Anderson who taught Ames how to be a coach.
"Sitting in the wrestling room or in the coach's office, pretty much running ideas through my head, I realized that a lot of times I'm looking back on the days I had in high school with Coach Anderson and just modeling some of the policies and practices around what he did," Ames said. "I learned a lot from him in high school. It's definitely carrying over to where I'm at right now."
Apart from coaching wrestling technique or how to structure a practice, perhaps the most important — and lasting — thing Ames learned from Anderson is the bond between a coach and his athlete.
"I feel like he had a great bond with all of his wrestlers and being a good coach it’s something you've got to have," Ames said. "You have to have that special bond between an athlete and a coach and I just try to kind of imitate his behaviors and what I saw him do and just use it at the college level."
So, Ames and Anderson can now talk as equals, right?
Ames said he will always see Anderson as his coach.
"I can call him 'Eric,' but I always call him 'Coach' or 'Anderson,'" Ames said.
Because Ames didn't have Anderson just for wrestling. In high school, he had Anderson for physical education and driver's education.
Ames said Anderson was pretty good as a driving instructor.
Well, there was that one incident with the deer...
Anderson doesn’t remember it, but Ames does. It was the annual highway trip and they were coming back to Viroqua from La Crosse when...
"We were coming up Chaseburg Hill and a deer wandered along the side of the road," Ames said.
Luckily for Ames, who was at the wheel, and Anderson, over on the passenger side, the deer decided to stay right where it was.
"It wasn't close enough; it just got the heart pumping," Ames said.
Ames will have to remind Anderson of that again the next time they meet.
Still, there was a lot of reminiscing between Ames and Anderson at Bi-State and also in the wrestling room at Viroqua when Ames came to a team practice during Christmas break.
For Ames, it was like the years since he graduated in 2006 had just gone away. It felt like he’d never left the team.
"Whenever I go back and visit, it's so easy to walk right in and it seems like you haven't spent time apart really," Ames said. "It still feels comfortable going back and hanging out with them."
Ames may be the head wrestling coach at UW-Eau Claire, but once a Blackhawk, always a Blackhawk.