by Steve Peterson
The schedule is a hectic one each winter evening when wrestling is on the docket for Al Van Wyhe.
If it’s Monday it must be a junior varsity meet at West Sioux.
On a Saturday, it’s a meet in Hawarden, or maybe Akron, Sergeant Bluff Luton or many points farther away.
For the last 36 years, Van Wyhe has been officiating wrestling meets but is calling it a career after this season.
“I started just after college when Jim Henrich hired me to work the A-W tournament,” said Van Wyhe, of Ireton.
Van Wyhe worked 10 state tournaments in South Dakota and since 2002 in Iowa’s state meet.
“The rules have changed and wrestling has changed right with them,” said Van Wyhe.
Doug Manley of Akron, Ben Weiss and Chet Jones all helped Van Wyhe in his early years of officiating.
“No one sees things like a referee does. You get to see things the average fan-in-the-stands will not. The most important thing is communication with the wrestlers and the coaches,” said Van Wyhe.
He mentioned one recent point-of-emphasis.
“They’ve gotten a lot more aggressive when it comes to calling stalling. You have to keep on trying to score points no matter what your position,” said Van Wyhe.
The West Sioux High School alum has a day job that is flexible in the winter to allow for much traveling and one has to be flexible with the type of winters the likable Van Wyhe has seen. He farms with his brother Terry on 1,000 acres they rent between Hawarden and Ireton.
“I remember (Iowa wrestling legend) Dan Gable came to my district meet. I have his autograph,” said Van Wyhe.
Van Wyhe’s knowledge of the sport drew praise from recent competitors and the educator who gave Al his initial tournament assignment.
“You want Al on the mat when you wrestle. He knows the rule book inside and out,” said A-W alum and head coach Dustin Meinen.
“Al started in the early days of the Akron tournament. Wrestling has changed greatly. He is very dependable, hard working, fair and never failed to show up for a match or tournament. He is really interested in the sport of wrestling and worked to improve and be active, locally, at District and at State. He is well thought of in the sport,” said former A-W Head wrestling coach and now retired teacher Henrich.
A-W Grades 7-12 Principal and former wrestling coach Derek Briggs praised Van Wyhe’s dedication. “You won’t find anyone more dedicated than Al,” said Briggs.
He noted the area is blessed with some fine resident wrestling officials; Manley, Brad Harvey and Tom Huls (last year’s Iowa Official of the Year). The hope is to get the current college wrestlers interested to keep that going.
Briggs recalled a humourous story from the A-W tournament. “Al was moving to make a call and he popped the button on his pants. He officiated the rest of the way with the help of a few safety pins,” said Briggs.
Van Wyhe said he will be around the matches next winter and is always willing to help a young official.
“I ask them if they’re interested if I like their demeanor,” said Van Wyhe.
He was glad it took a while before that coveted first assignment at the state meet. “For me it was good I had to wait to get to State. Sometimes you get there too early as an official and it can eat you up,” said Van Wyhe.
Van Wyhe was honored at both the A-W and West Sioux invitational tournaments this season. Last year he received his 35 years of service plaque from the state.
Success as a Falcon
Van Wyhe, the eldest of four children of Marlyn and Darlene Van Wyhe, was part of the State Runner-up West Sioux Cross Country team in his senior year, 1976. “We lost to Tipton for the state title. Back then they only counted three scores compared to four now. I ran cross country because it got me in shape for wrestling,” said Van Wyhe.
He was looking forward to the wrestling season, especially his senior year, due to back surgery that cost him his junior season. He competed at 118 and 98-pound weight classes in three seasons. His senior season, his younger brothers Terry and Ken were also on West Sioux’s team and sister Barbara was a cheerleader. Van Wyhe was also on the track and field team and made the all-conference baseball squad one season.
Van Wyhe will be officiating at Sioux Center’s Class No. 2A sectional meet on Feb. 2.
On the board
During his high school career Van Wyhe had the most reversals of the Falcons with 34, a school record.