GREEN RIVER — Although Green River may be labeled as one of the smaller high schools in Wyoming, its reputation on the mat is quite the opposite.
It’s no secret that when it comes to wrestling, not too many high school programs can say they’ve had as much success as Green River. With 17 state titles sitting in the school’s trophy case, it’s hard to argue against how dominant this Wolves program continues to be.
This past year alone, GRHS wrapped up the 2019-20 season with five individual state champions and placed second as a team at the state tournament in Casper.
Despite being crowned as state champions early on, when all was said and done, Green River was forced to hand over the title to Kelly Walsh following a last-second scoring error, a decision that gave the Trojans a 1.5-point win over the Wolves.
Although team members didn’t quite come home with the trophy they were hoping for, as a team, the Wolves still have a lot to celebrate. Not only did each wrestler piece together another strong season, but all of the hard work and effort from the entire GRHS coaching staff didn’t go unnoticed.
After completing his third season as head coach, Josh Wisniewski and the rest of his staff — Mikel Hoopes, Adam Baker, Eric Wright, Scot Brady, and Colt Reece — all took home coach of the year awards after yet another dominant season.
Wisniewski was named High School Boys Head Coach of the Year for the state of Wyoming by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
As for Hoopes, Baker, Wright, Brady, and Reece, they were all named the High School Boys Assistant Coaching Staff of the Year for the state of Wyoming by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA).
In receiving this honor, the staff now become finalists for the NWCA Section 8 Assistant Coaching Staff of the Year Award.
When word first broke that Wisniewski and his staff earned this prestigious honor, the Wolves head coach said the first thing that went through his mind was excitement.
“I was really excited ... for both me and my staff,” he said. “The guys who I have alongside me work really hard we all work extremely well together. It was definitely a nice surprise when we all found out.”
Wisnieski, who is originally from Rock Springs, has been in and around the sport of wrestling his entire life. After four years at Rock Springs High School, Wisniewski spent two years wrestling at Western Wyoming Community College and from there went on to wrestle for two more years at Chadron State College.
Knowing that he wanted to become a coach one day, when Wisniewski’s career on the mat came to an end, he packed his bags and returned to Wyoming where he spent nine years coaching at Lincoln Middle School in Green River.
After spending a large chunk of his time coaching at the middle school level, Wisniewski was eventually hired by GRHS athletic director Tony Beardsley as the head coach of Green River High School, where he has been since 2018.
Since he took over the program, Green River has been crowned two-time regional champs, two-time state runner-ups, and 2020 Ron Thon champions.
When asked about one of his biggest coaching goals going into each season, the Wolves head coach responded, “to see the kids succeed.”
“I like working with the kids and helping them achieve their goals,” he said. “I try to help them (his wrestlers) succeed not just on the mat, but also in the classroom and in the community. I believe that if I can help these kids succeed in all three of those areas, all of the other side awards will take care of themselves.”
As for Mikel Hoopes, when asked what was the first emotion to pop into his head after hearing the good news about the award, he said his first response was excitement as well.
“It was a great honor because this coaching staff is so close and it was a great experience for all of us as friends to go through together,” he said.
Hoopes, who has been an assistant on the Wolves staff now for eight years said that he has enjoyed his time at GRHS and loves showing up to work each day during the season.
“Being the biggest coach on staff, I take great pride in having our bigger weights do well. That’s one of my big goals each year is to have the big guys ready. I work with the whole team, but those are the guys I get more individual time with to help them compete and progress.”
Similar to the rest of the GRHS coaching staff, Hoopes is another coach who has been in and around the sport most of his life.
Born in Laramie, Hoopes spent one year with the Plainsmen as a freshman before closing out his high school career in Lusk. From there, he went on to wrestle Division I at the University of Wyoming for two years before moving to Green River and taking on his current role as an assistant coach.
Next to being part of a top-notch program at GRHS, what also has Hoopes impressed since relocating to Green River is the city itself.
“From peewee level on up, I think all of the programs in Green River have great consistency. The town really backs the sport of wrestling, probably more so than any other sport. I really enjoy seeing that every year,” he said.
Coach Baker is another Wolf who grew up outside of Green River but has been with the team for a few years now.
Come next November when the new season ramps up, Baker will be going into his ninth season coaching alongside Wisniewski.
Baker said he has spent the last three years as an assistant coach at the high school and before that spent another five years helping Wisniewski at Lincoln Middle School.
“Having the chance to work with Josh (Wisniewski) for so many years now has been great,” he said. “Josh is very organized and he takes a lot of input from the assistant coaches. It’s not just him mandating what goes on. We all work together as a staff and as a team.”
Being a coach for quite some time now, Baker said one of his biggest goals each year is to build up young men.
“I think that it’s important that the kids learn from wrestling. Wrestling is more than just about winning and losing,” he said. “It’s about developing these kids into good young men that become strong members of the community.”
Baker, who is originally from Star Valley, began wrestling when he was only 5 years old and continued wrestling all the way through his senior year of high school.
He added that what makes his time at GRHS so great, next to working with great individuals, is showing up to work with a hardworking staff.
“Everyone there does their part,” he said. “When everyone does their part, that’s what makes the system work.”
Another coach who was caught of guard but also full of excitement after receiving coach of the year was coach Wright.
“I was both surprised and excited,” he said. “Receiving that award was not something I expected, but I’m happy to be part of the group that got it.”
Wright, who was born and raised in the city of Green River, has been an assistant coach with the Wolves for three years now and has also spent 11 years as an assistant coach with the Grapplers.
Before his time as a coach, Wright spent most of his childhood on the mat. After starting out with the Grapplers, he moved up the ranks and wrestled all the way through high school.
After four years with the Wolves, Wright continued his career at Western Wyoming Community College for two years and from there began helping younger kids reach their goals as a coach.
“I really enjoy coaching,” he said. “Especially these last three years with Josh (Wisniewski) ... it’s been a great time. He’s super organized with everything he does and as a staff, I think we all work extremely well together.”
As a coach who sees the success from both ends of the chain, one end being the lower-level program (Grapplers) and the other end being at the high school level, Wright said it’s incredible to witness the overall development of each kid from the time they start, all the way up until they reach high school.
“There are a lot of very talented wrestlers at every level,” he said. “What makes this town so great at producing talent year in and year out is that the younger or lower-level kids want to be just like the older ones. They want to have the same success as the person before them. Each group starts building upon each other and over time everybody just gets better. I think that’s why Green River is known for its wrestling. The best way to describe is that we are just carved from a different stone.”
As for coach Reece, he too has always been impressed when it came to Green River’s wrestling programs.
Although Reece was born in Cokeville, after high school he continued his wrestling career at Western Wyoming Community College and went on to become teammates with coach Hoopes at the University of Wyoming for two years.
“Having Wyoming roots, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the Green River program,” he said. “I’ve always known that they’ve been a powerhouse athletically as well as academically.”
As the head coach of Lincoln Middle School, Reece said that being able to work at the high school has been a tremendous help. He also added that in order to continue to build a successful program, you have to start at the lower-levels and continue to build up.
“Having Wisniewski allow me into the room and take me on as an assistant has been great because I can see what type of program he wants and take that down to the middle school with me,” he said.
“When it comes to being successful, it really does take a village. Wisniewski has been phenomenal with me and all the other coaches see his philosophy so that we can all build a great program together.”
Reece, who just wrapped up his first year as an assistant with GRHS, began his coaching career as an assistant at Cheyenne South High School for three years. During this time, he also served as an assistant coach at Johnson Junior High School in Cheyenne.
Following his time in Cheyenne, Reece moved to Waldport, Oregon, for six years, where he served as an assistant coach for one year and later became head coach of the wrestling program for two seasons.
From there, Reece moved to Green River and accepted the job as the head wrestling coach at Lincoln Middle for the start of the 2019-20 season.
In the short amount of time that Reece has been with the program, he said he has gained a ton of knowledge.
“The coaching dynamic here has been phenominal,” he said. “Wisniewski always has a solid game plan put in every day before practice. He has everything planned out. He emails all of us assistants during the day so that we have a chance to look everything over. Overall, he’s just a great coach and a great leader of our program.”
Next to working alongside Wisniewski, Reece is also excited to have joined the rest of the coaching staff at GRHS.
“Just by watching us interact, you would think all of us have been friends for a lifetime,” he said. “It’s amazing just how much we all joke around and have fun, whether it’s at practice or on the team bus. Even outside of the sport, this group can get together and have just as much fun in the sport and I think that’s important. That’s what makes being a part of this staff so great,” he said.
Assistant coach Scot Brady did not respond to requests to comment before press time.