Varsity Kansas

Heights feeds off coach's energy

Known for his flamboyant demeanor and an in-your-face style, Heights wrestling coach Mike Church makes no apologies for the way he carries himself.

Often misconstrued for being arrogant or trying to put the spotlight on himself, Church's approach to coaching in reality is anything but cockiness and showboating.

It's a passion for the sport and his wrestlers.

"When I know my kids have put in a lot of time and effort, I want them to know how much I appreciate it," Church said. "I want them to see that it means as much to me as it does to them. I like to see kids be successful and I know how much work it takes to get there and I have to give the same kind of effort."

After being buried in the bottom three of the City League for years, Church built Heights into one of the state's elite last season. The Falcons ended Bishop Carroll's 105-dual winning streak and also won its first league title since 1997.

"It was an emotional moment and it was great to see this program knock off the giant," Church said. "I told them, aside from getting married and witnessing the birth of their children, beating Carroll will be one of the best moments of their lives."

The challenge now for Church and his staff is to take a different approach to handle being what Carroll once was — the team with the bull's-eye on its back.

The Falcons have to build off last season and turn it into perennial success, not just occasional.

Last season's team was more star-laden than this year. Gone from that team are Kendric Maple (state champion at 135), Chase Nelson (two-time state champion and second place at 171 last season), Dondre Davis (fifth place at 119) and Kameron Neal (sixth place at 275).

Church came up with "It's not about me, it's about wrestling," on the back of the Falcons' shirts this season, in hopes of showing his athletes that despite losing four stalwarts, the same accolades can be accomplished.

"Kendric, Chase, Dondre and Kameron are all great kids but they aren't the program —the entire unit is the program," Church said. "When kids graduate, a program has to have something underneath and I think we have done a good job. There is a foundation now."

Included in the eight state qualifiers returning are the DeShazer brothers, Daniel and Ulysses, along with Matt Reed, whose confidence according to Church, is at an all-time high because of his success leading the Falcons' football team to the Class 6A championship game. Taite Nelson and Trey Schrimscher are also ranked in the top six of their weight classes in the preseason.

"The program is in place and the kids have bought in," Church said. "We are no longer a group of individuals, we are a team."

Church isn't afraid to get down on his knees, slapping the mat or to be confrontational with an official. He isn't afraid to turn and pump up the crowd.

He also isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to turn around a program that once was a league doormat .

"He makes us want to work even harder," Taite Nelson said. "When we see his energy, it gives us more energy."

And it all comes back to that word — passion.

"I love this sport so much," Church said. "It's molded me into what I am.

"It's my life."

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