What started as a humble state tournament in Minnesota has quickly become one of the Midwest's premier youth wrestling opportunities.
The Midwest Wrestling Tour now consists of four tournaments, including this weekend's Badgerland Nationals at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. More than 3,000 wrestlers are expected to compete in the tournaments held in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
Saturday's competitions at UW-L featured third- through sixth-graders across eight mats. Sunday will feature pre-K through second-graders along with seventh- and eighth-graders. A total of 726 kids from 10 states will participate in the tour's fourth trip to La Crosse.
MWT Director Jeremy Innes started a small wrestling tournament near the Twin Cities in 2003. After repeated success, he started what is now known as the Gopher State Nationals in 2006. Held in Monticello, it remains the largest of the four tournaments, with 1,100 wrestlers expected this year.
The Jackrabbit Nationals in South Dakota is the newest addition to the tour, and was held December 19-20 in Brookings. Innes said most of the 496 wrestlers were from out-of-state, continuing a trend of Midwest competition.
"The tour concept has gone over really well, so we are looking to expand," he said. "We've got a couple of targets in the Midwest that we're looking at right now, hopefully we can get at least one of them worked out."
An incentive for wrestlers to compete in multiple tournaments is the Midwest Wrestling Tour belt, given to athletes who finish in the top six in their class.
"We'll probably give out 125 belts today," Innes said.
In all, Innes expects more than 100 wrestlers to take home a belt by February's Gopher State Nationals.