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Kevin Schnepf, Published February 18 2010

Oakes wrestling program returns to glory days

The orange-colored singlets worn by the high school wrestlers from Oakes, N.D., used to intimidate Cory Schall.

That was in the early 1990s – when Oakes was riding a state-record 49-dual win streak and Schall was wrestling for nearby Enderlin High School.

“They were one of the toughest teams around,” Schall said. “You would go into the final matches of most of the tournaments and there would be 12 or 13 Oakes guys. It was kind of intimidating seeing that whole line of orange.”

Schall loves the color now.

In his seventh year as Oakes head wrestling coach, Schall will have 10 wrestlers clad in orange competing in the North Dakota state wrestling tournament that begins today in the Fargodome.

Oakes takes aim for its second straight Class B dual and individual team championships. Last year, Oakes ended a drought of 16 years without a state title.

The last one was in 1993 – when Schall was a junior wrestling for Enderlin.

He had no idea he would later get a chance to coach Oakes.

That was until Oakes’ Hall of Fame coach Garry Opp recruited Schall to replace him.

“I wanted to be part of that tradition,” Schall said.

It’s a tradition that started nearly four decades ago with Opp – who didn’t know anything about wrestling when he was asked to start a youth wrestling program.

Opp read a book about the sport and proceeded to start a pee wee program in 1971 – a feeder system that still attracts as many as 100 kids.

“I knew we needed to have a feeder program because basketball in Oakes was very strong,” said Opp, who became the head varsity coach from 1980 to 1998 – winning seven region titles and producing nine top 10 finishes at state.

Knowing he wasn’t going to coach forever, Opp then recruited Schall – a Valley City State student who was helping coach at Enderlin.

“I thought he would really be a nice fit and he has been,” said Opp, now the mayor of Oakes.

Schall learned as an assistant for two years before taking over the program. In addition to last year’s state titles, Schall has coached Oakes to two second-place and one fourth-place finishes at state.

“Winning is contagious and kids want to be a part of that,” Schall said. “Plus, none of this is possible without my coaching staff.”

That includes Rod Garland, who has been an assistant at Oakes for nearly 30 years; Oakes graduate Ben Iverson, who works in nearby Gwinner at the Bobcat plant; and another Oakes graduate Adam Dahlstrom, the mortician in Oakes who recently wrestled at North Dakota State.

“Rod and Ben stress the fundamentals to the junior high wrestlers,” Schall said. “Adam teaches new techniques and is very good with moves when wrestlers are on their feet. My strength is wrestling from the top or bottom.

“It’s a good chemistry.”

One that has opponents seeing orange.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549