State champion wrestler helps mentor grade school athletes

High school wrestler Keegan Hanson, a state champion in the Division II tournament this past December, chose for his senior project to help grade school kids in the Wolfpack Wrestling program with Parks and Recreation as an assistant coach.

"Basically, just helping the kids out with their technique and break down the moves, step by step," he said.

He's been volunteering, coaching elementary school and middle school students in wrestling throughout his high school years.

"In Craig, my freshman and sophomore year, my dad was the coach for elementary and middle school, so I just helped him out, just being nice," he said. "Because I remember when I was in elementary and middle school that there were high schoolers that did it and I thought it was something really cool and I wanted to give back. And (at the high school) in Montana, I did the same thing."

Perhaps emulating his mother, high school/middle school principal Jackie Hanson, Hanson has always enjoyed working with younger children. "I think that's one of the best parts," he said. "They're pretty funny. They're kind of shy at the start, and once you get to know them a little bit more, they're all over the place."

Remembering his own experiences as a novice wrestler at their age, his perspective changed as his role shifted to that of a skilled instructor watching as the grade schoolers slowly mastered the moves and techniques he once had to learn. "Instead of (me) looking up to someone, I felt like the kids were looking up to me."

"I think he's been really great," Devyn Johnson, Parks and Recreation coordinator, said of Hanson. "We're lucky to have him. ... He works really well with the kids."

Hanson said the toughest part of working with the youngsters is the first meeting and slowly gaining their trust. "Amateur kids are really tough to (coach). They don't really know what's going on," he said. "You can't just come in and boss everyone around."

As he continued to work with them, he felt a sense of pride as he watched the kids' growth from goofing around and lacking discipline to becoming good wrestlers. "Once ... they finally get into it and they understand it, it feels like a pretty good accomplishment."

Wolfpack Wrestling competed in their first tournament of the season at the community center on Feb. 17. "They did wonderful," Johnson said. "They did so, so, great. Their hard work definitely was highlighted, and their sportsmanship."

Hanson agreed with that assessment. "I think all the kids did very well," he said. "They all placed. They focused on their moves."

However, he believes the most important thing for the young wrestlers is to have fun. "They shouldn't be worrying about whether they win or lose that much."

While he's only been in Wrangell for his senior year, Hanson has had great experiences while competing in cross country running, wrestling and basketball. "I've got a lot of memories," he said. "Cross country, that was really fun. We got a state title as a team. Wrestling, I got a state individual title. And, I'd say the coaches here are outstanding, some of the best coaches I've ever had. And the kids here are pretty cool, too."

He does admit there is one high school experience he won't miss. "In Montana, chemistry was pretty tough," he said with a smile.

After graduation, Hanson is considering whether to go to trade school to learn plumbing or heating and ventilation systems, or attending college, perhaps in Montana, to major in elementary education. "I think I'm really good with kids," he said. "My mom does too."


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