There isn’t a lot about prep wrestling that Bill Verbeten doesn’t know or hasn’t seen in his 45 years as a coach. He has been a part of three state champion teams at Wrightstown High School, has coached nine individual state champions for the Tigers, and has been a part of the coaching staff for a countless number of conference champions while donning the blue and white of Wrightstown High School.
Thursday, January 28th saw the last time that Verbeten, a member of the George Martin Wrestling Hall of Fame, would be mat side for the Tigers at home in their dual meet against conference rival Fox Valley Lutheran. The outcome (a 76-0 Wrightstown victory) was not nearly important as it was for the young men that Coach Bill has molded to be able to perform at home in front of him one last time.
“It’s time for me to settle down and do one thing at a time,” Verbeten said in a conversation before the meet against FVL started. “45 years of going from work to wrestling to home to work to wrestling to home…it’s getting about that time to slow down. I have a great wife (Shari) that all these years stood by me and helped with everything from the wrestling to the farming. She and the kids would get the milking started on the farm. I would come home from work, finish up the milking, load up the kids, and off to wrestling practice.”
By his own count, he says that he has coached over 10 members of his family in his years as wrestling coach. That includes Verbetens, Walls, and Klisters. And that is just at Wrightstown. He also had nephews from DePere come and practice with them at Wrightstown.
Those three state championships under his tutelage (1999, 2005, and 2006 along with a runner up finish in 1998) were in the middle of a run where the Tigers were state team qualifiers every year from 1998 until 2006 except 2004. Not only did he coach nine individual state champions (the last being Jackson Fox in 2012), also coached a national champion in Michael Bannach.
“What I really enjoy about coaching wrestling is you can take an individual who may be heading on the wrong path and form them on that mat into good people,” Verbeten said. “Jackson Fox was a prime example. I told him he was a great athlete and he needed to wake up. He got it together and he turned out to be a hell of a good man.”
Fox, who wrestled at UW-Parkside after his career at Wrightstown, posted a tribute on his Facebook page for Verbeten, saying in part “I can’t say enough about what this man and his family have done for my family and I throughout the years. Next to my parents and brothers, my high school wrestling coaches have helped me the most in becoming the man that I am today and there are so many things that I would not have been able to overcome or achieve without their guidance. They are truly an extension of my family and I owe them more than they will ever know. Bill Verbeten has been like a father (or grandfather) to me and has dedicated over 40 years to Wrightstown wrestling.”
The list of achievements for Verbeten is extensive. He started the Wrightstown Youth Wrestling Program in 1971. The first elementary school tournament was held in 1975. He was hired as the assistant high school wrestling coach in 1979, which was also the year Wrightstown qualified its first wrestler for the state tournament (Mike Fritsch). The Tigers have had at least 1 state qualifier every year since. He became head coach in 1986.
“Getting the little kids program started is probably one of my best achievements here,” Verbeten said. “I think that turned our entire program around and seeing it through and being there all the time, being a part of it. I love working with the little kids and I have kinda gotten away from that.”
Even after 45 years, Verbeten still has a passion for not only the sport of wrestling, but the young men and women (his daughter Stephanie was the first girl in Wisconsin to wrestle in the state tournament) he has worked with. His work with the Tigers once again came to the forefront in 2016, as Wrightstown earned the Sportsmanship Award at the 2016 Cheesehead Invitational. And the youth program he started is thriving as well, winning the Little Cheesehead this year.
“You have got to be in with those young kids coming up so they know who you are,” he said. “When they come to that practice, they aren’t afraid of you. Some of the young kids now, in seventh and eighth grade, they know what to expect coming into the high school program. It won’t be a surprise.”
The list of memories is just as extensive. When pressed, one name came to mind. Patrick Farrell.
“I used to give Patrick a ride home from practice every night and he told me that one of his goals was to wrestle just one varsity match,” Verbeten said. “We set it up with Chilton and we were able to get him on the mat as a varsity wrestler. The kids carried him off. That was very special night.”
When asked how he would like to be remembered, he sat back in his chair and thought about his answer.
“I would like people to say that ‘Bill brought the program from nothing to success and state championships,’” he said. “‘And I was glad my son had a chance to work with him.’ “