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Cascade ramps up wrestling program, gets Vidlak

Cascade Christian High has been able to take pride in numerous athletic achievements over the years, but wrestling hasn't exactly seen a surplus of honors.

That may change in the near future.

The Challengers took a big leap over the weekend when they came to an agreement with Dan Vidlak for the vacant head coaching position, and Cascade Christian athletic director Dave Fennell promises that is just the start for the fledgling program that began in 2007 under Joe Hagler's direction but didn't field a squad this past winter.

"We're going to do wrestling right," Fennell said Monday. "Unfortunately with Joe, we weren't able to give him the structures that he needed and were really warranted in building a program. Our first year wrestling we had 26 kids signed up but at that time we had no place for kids to practice at the old Jacksonville school and so by the end of that year we had five kids that ended up being committed to the program. This will be different."

Fennell said there is a designated spot on campus for a wrestling room, given school board approval, and he vowed to Vidlak that he and the program will have the school's full support.

Vidlak was a two-time state champion from 1986-87 at 98 and 106 pounds for Hidden Valley High, going undefeated in those final two years, before wrestling at Oregon and winning three Pac-10 Conference championships to go with a pair of NCAA All-American honors at 118 pounds after taking eighth in 1990 and seventh in '91.

Vidlak went on to further his wrestling résumé by earning a gold medal at the Pan-American Games and taking silver at the Ivan Yeargen wrestling tournament in Russia. While getting his post-graduate degree in optometry, Vidlak served as an assistant coach to Mike Clock at Pacific University.

"We really had to convince him that we're going to take wrestling serious," said Fennell. "Obviously, we've been a basketball school during the winter, but we have 130 men at our high school and only 40 of them do basketball. That leaves 90 kids that will have another option."

"I'm still kinda shocked that we got someone like him," added Fennell. "I'm pretty pumped right now."

As happens sometimes in these situations, the opportunity to bring Vidlak into the fold essentially fell into the Challengers' lap. His oldest son, Ryan, will be a freshman at Cascade Christian in the fall and his other son, Gabe, is finishing up his sixth-grade school year at Applegate School.

Both boys were late-comers to the sport of wrestling but have fallen in love with it. Vidlak and his wife, Stephanie, love the public school atmosphere at Applegate but also found Cascade Christian to their liking, choosing the school first before Vidlak even thought to ask Fennell about the Challengers' wrestling program.

Fennell opened up fully about Cascade Christian's lack of a program, then kept at Vidlak until ultimately drawing him into the fold for the 2014-15 school year.

"You meet the guy and the first thing that impresses you is this is a guy who is passionate about life and passionate about kids," said Fennell. "It didn't take me long to realize that whatever investment we have to make to get kids around a guy like this, I'm going to do it. I've been challenged by my superintendent, Devon Rickabaugh, and our administration to go after the best and I think he's it. He understands there's not a lot of history there for wrestling at Cascade, but I think you get a guy like this ... he's just a difference-maker."

Vidlak said the last thing he was looking for was to take over a wrestling program, nor does he want to give the impression he's only doing this because of his children.

"I don't want people to just think I'm doing it for my kids and them only because obviously I want to do a good job for all the kids," Vidlak said as he prepped to return from watching the Reno Worlds in Nevada. "Trust me, I don't need another job, but your kids are only young once and wrestling is something I know so well that I feel compelled to help."

Vidlak said he has no grand illusions about where he will take the program, but the sport provided him with so many life lessons and spiritual moments that he's hoping others will be able to experience something similar during their journey through the sport.

"Dave and I see eye to eye on the value of wrestling," said Vidlak, 44. "I'm a pretty passionate person and will put my heart and soul into it and they're willing to invest and partner with me, and we're going to see where God takes it."

"I see just a wonderful opportunity to take a sport like wrestling that has been so good to me and that I really believe in and use it as an instrument to serve young men," he added. "Ultimately that's all I want to do."

With so many athletes roaming the halls already for a school that won the Class 3A football title this year and has a history of success in boys basketball, baseball and track and field, Vidlak is definitely optimistic about the future.

"I'm hoping that if we build it, people will come," he said of his program. "I'm very grateful to Dave Fennell and the board to have the opportunity to serve kids through wrestling. That's what it's all about."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry