Steamboat Springs Jay Muhme remembers a time when wrestling dominance and Steamboat Springs were one and the same.
All 14 weight classes were filled with guys pushing each other to the limits on the practice mats.
Muhme believes it is no coincidence that the drop-off in the Sailors' program coincides with the rise of the resort community and the fall of the ranching one. The face of Steamboat has changed, and it has carried over into the wrestling room.
"I never would have thought of this demise, and I never would have thought the community would have changed the way it has," Muhme said.
Finding enough kids with the fortitude to wrestle is tough today, and that isn't a problem saved exclusively for Steamboat. But Muhme, the Sailors' second-year coach, doesn't concern himself with numbers. He concerns himself with who he has.
"I'd rather have five or six guys give me their heart than have a room full of kids that don't care," Muhme said.
And if a kid doesn't care about wrestling, that kid isn't going anywhere on the mat.
Thirteen boys are out this season, five are returnees from last year, but Muhme said about eight or nine current kids are serious wrestlers, committed to attending practice and improving.
Senior Will Zimmerer represents all that's good about wrestling, Muhme said. Practices are not easy, but the heavyweight doesn't complain, and while Zimmerer admits football is his first love, wrestling is right below it.
"Wrestling is fun for me," Zimmerer said. "The period of focus is much shorter and more intense."
Zimmerer was Steamboat's lone state qualifier last season, and he's hoping for a return trip this year. Muhme said it would be great if Zimmerer didn't have to represent the Sailors as a solo act.
Junior David Gittleson would love to join Zimmerer at state, and Muhme said his 135-pounder has a shot. After struggling through his freshman season, Gittleson improved during his sophomore campaign, and Muhme said upperclassmen almost always have the edge on a wrestling mat.
"I'd like to qualify for state," Gittleson said.
Joining Zimmerer and Gittleson on Steamboat's roster is Andy Morell at 103, Kelly Chambers at 112 and Treat Romick at 119. There is no wrestler currently listed in the 125- or 130-pound slots. Gittleson is at 135, there's no one at 140, and Donald Dillon is at 145.
Zach Forcum and Vince Grippa are both listed at 152, while both Walker Hammond and Pat McMahon are currently at 160. Michael Herbert and Matt Lakin are at 171. No one is at 189 or 215, while Zimmerer is the heavyweight.
"I just want to see whoever is out gain their full potential in what's in them," Muhme said of this season's goal.
That includes kids like Hammond, a freshman and first-year wrestler. He picked wrestling to keep in shape. He expected the conditioning to be tough. He's in for a different world on the mat.
"There's a whole bunch of technique, and I don't know any of it," Hammond said. "You can't be a wrestler and warm the bench. It's just you and the other guy. I think it's harder to go out for wrestling."
But Muhme and most any wrestler you speak with will agree the lessons learned in discipline, hard work and determination are more than worth it.
Steamboat opens the season at home against Rangely on Wednesday. The Sailors turn around and host their own invitational Thursday at the high school.
Richard Atkinson said those interested in volunteering to help at this tournament are encouraged to call him at 879-4976.