Centennial wrestling coach John Bergeland sells his program as a family. For three seasons now, he and sons Jack and Jakob have embodied the struggle and joy of being family on and off the mat.
Both Jack, a senior, and Jakob, a sophomore, placed fourth at the Class 3A state tournament last March. Both are determined to win individual titles this season, Jack at 113 pounds and Jakob at 120.
Enjoying his sons’ successes hasn’t always been easy for John, a dedicated father who admits, “I’ve done a good job overcoaching.”
The dynamic has improved this season, all three agree, as coach/father-wrestler/son roles have become more defined.
The Bergeland wrestling family took time to develop. Jack was 2 years old when John gave him head gear but didn’t start wrestling until third grade. Jakob held off until fourth grade, opting first for hockey.
John didn’t protest; he was the only dad in the bleachers wearing a wrestling jacket. The boys committed to wrestling a few years later.
“When they were in eighth and sixth grade, my wife, Jamie, and I told them, ‘We don’t care if you wrestle or not. But if you decide to do it, it’s our job to support you,’ ” said John, who tried the sport on a whim as a senior at Park Center and was named outstanding junior varsity wrestler.
First up was Jack, who made varsity as a sophomore. Both father and son struggled to keep good boundaries, culminating in what John called a “blowout” in a match against Kasson-Mantorville. John yelled criticisms at Jack about his technique, to which the youngster shouted back, “I know,” and walked out of the gym.
John later apologized. Jack went on to finish the season and took sixth place at the state meet.
Experience made John a little wiser. But while Jakob benefited in the form of no outbursts, a certain tension remained during matches.
“He told me last week to sit in his corner and shut up,” John said. “I did a good job for one match in a row.”
Joking aside, John has tried reinventing his coaching style this season. He has taken a step back to see the whole picture, leaving more of the in-match coaching to assistants.
John called assistant coaches Justin Koob, Tim Matheson and Steve Peterson “phenomenal people” and said: “The boys have clearly prospered from their tutelage. They have been instrumental in helping me get out of the way, oftentimes so that my boys can better find their own way.”
The boys have reciprocated.
“You try to not to take it personally any time he makes a comment or gives you a suggestion on how to get better,” Jack said. “If he says, ‘Hey, you need to hit that faster,’ I just say, ‘OK.’ If I can’t listen to him, then other people in the room are going to take a cue from that, and that can’t help anybody.”
Said Jakob: “When he’s coaching he can get a little worked up, but we have it pretty well worked out now.”
In their younger days, the brothers battled in a downstairs bedroom converted to a small-scale workout area, complete with a 10-foot-by-12-foot mat. To John’s surprise, the walls survived ruin, save a few shoe marks. Closet doors needed fixing a few times, however.
Opponents aren’t faring so well. Jakob entered the week ranked fourth at 120 pounds by The Guillotine wrestling magazine. Jack, who recently topped 100 career victories, is sixth at 113 pounds.
“Jack is a gritty kid and a resilient kid,” John said. “He works as hard or harder than anyone.”
Said Jack: “I’ve heard it once or twice, but it’s always a little bit of a shock. He’s had a lot of good wrestlers, and to be that highly thought of is pretty awesome.”
John said Jakob, who posted two All-America finishes at a summer junior national meet in Fargo, “is fluid during matches and doesn’t freak out. We’ve talked this year about putting on a show. Dominate. Don’t just get by.”
The brothers start dual matches with an example of their intensity.
“Usually he has me slap him on the side of his face,” Jakob said of Jack. “Just once. Really hard.”
There are tender moments, too, like when Jack picks up and carries his brother’s gear after a disappointing match.
“You need someone to get better with so it’s always been fun to have him along,” Jack said. “I’ve always tried to help him along.”
The fires of wrestling can burn at times but more often warm the Bergelands. At the state meet as a sophomore, Jack defeated an opponent from Albert Lea 4-3 to clinch a spot in the top six and all-state honors. John smiled as he recalled what happened next.
“He ran over and gave me a huge hug,” John said. “There’s nothing like that.”