It’s been a dream journey for 1987 Anamosa High School graduate and current Southeast Polk wrestling coach Jason Christenson.
Through hard work and countless hours dedicated to the sport, Christenson, the eldest son of former Belle Plaine and Raider wrestling coach Denny Christenson, is regarded as one of the top wrestling minds not only in the state of Iowa, but nationally as well.
“When you’re doing something you love, they say you never have to work a day in your life,” said Christenson, who earned the coveted Bob Siddens Excellence in Coaching Award during a prestigious Wrestling Hall of Fame of Iowa ceremony in Waterloo last June.
“You could put me into that category. I just love what I get to do every single day working with high school kids and training them to be the very best they can be. For me, that’s what coaching is all about. Not the wins, losses or awards, coaching is about being a positive influence on the kids and getting them to reach their full potential. My dad was able to do that during his coaching career at Belle Plaine and Anamosa. Hopefully, I’ve been able to do that too.”
Christenson, the first-ever recipient of the Bob Siddens Award, given to the top wrestling coach in the state of Iowa, guided the Rams wrestling program to their first-ever state individual championship last February.
Southeast Polk, who had never won a state championship in any boys sport, then followed up the individual state championship with a dual team state title three days later.
“That was a magical stretch, that’s for sure, Christenson said. “We had come so close so many times over the years, but then to finally get over the hump and win it all at the individual and dual tournaments, well, I was just so happy for all the kids who had worked so hard bringing the Southeast Polk program to this level.”
The Christenson family joined an exclusive club after Jason led the Rams to the title, becoming just the second father-son duo to ever coach teams to Iowa state wrestling championships in the history of the sport.
Denny coached Belle Plaine to a state title back in 1976.
“I will have to admit, that’s a pretty special feeling knowing that my dad and I are one of just two families to ever lead teams to state wrestling titles in Iowa,” said Jason, as he and his father Denny, join Mark and Marv Reiland on the short list.
“Mark coached Iowa City West to state titles and his dad, Marv, did it at Eagle Grove, where my dad wrestled when he was in high school. Small world, huh?”
Though Jason has thoroughly enjoyed his coaching journey, which has spanned 12 years at Southeast Polk and included an amazing 10 Central Iowa Metropolitan League (CIML) championships, his coaching career almost never got off the ground.
“After watching my dad coach for so many years at Belle Plaine and Anamosa, as a kid I had made up my mind I wanted to do something else as a career choice,” Jason said. “I went to Central College after graduating from Anamosa and majored in biology. I wanted to be a physical therapist.
“That didn’t last too long though. I quickly realized my biology grades weren’t exactly what they needed to be, so I made the switch and majored in physical education.”
Jason also came to another realization while at college.
“As a kid, I never really appreciated what a great coach my dad actually was,” he said. “I will admit, it was hard wrestling for him in high school. While I didn’t know it at the time, just being in the wrestling room with my dad over all those years as a little kid at Belle Plaine and then wrestling for him at Anamosa, had a huge influence on me.
“I didn’t appreciate it then, but I sure do now.”
After graduating from Central College in 1991, Jason took over a downtrodden wrestling program at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter (C-M-B) and quickly wondered if he had made the right choice following in his father’s coaching footsteps.
“Those first few years at Collins-Maxwell-Baxter I would routinely call my dad,” Christenson said. “We would have long talks about why I should stay with the program and not give it up. That I could actually turn it around.”
By his fifth year at C-M-B, Jason had built a competitive team finishing the season with a 14-2 dual meet record after working through a four-year stretch that saw just a 9-37 mark.
“That was extremely rewarding turning the C-M-B program into a winner,” Jason said. “It sure wasn’t easy, but the kids finally bought into what we were teaching and everything just all came together.”
After setting the C-M-B program on the right course, Christenson interviewed to become the next Anamosa High School head wrestling coach after his father Denny retired.
“It’s interesting how things turn out,” Jason said. “I thought it would be nice to come home again and coach the Blue Raiders just like my dad did. While that didn’t happen, I guess I can’t complain with how things have turned out since.”
The next winter, Christenson accepted the head wrestling position at Oskaloosa, and proceeded to turn the Indians into champions posting a 50-14 overall record in his five-year stint there.
In 2001, Jason interviewed and was accepted as head wrestling coach at Southeast Polk, and the rest has been history as Christenson has built the Rams into one of Iowa’s perennial powerhouse programs.
“When you get kids who want to work hard, that makes winning a lot easier,” said Christenson, who to date sports a 355-103 overall dual meet record in his high school coaching career.
“We’ve had some nice success at Southeast Polk, and with the group of kids we have this year, we should be right there with another chance to win a championship.”
Once the high school season is over, Christenson’s wrestling work isn’t done, as he also coaches at the Iowa USA Wrestling level in the spring and summer months.
Christenson has been involved with the state-wide group since 1995 when he was named head cadet (ages 15-16) greco coach. A year later he coached the junior (grades 9-12) greco group before taking over as the junior director for the Iowa USA wrestling program, a job he still holds.
“I’ve been taking teams to junior national dual tournaments in Fargo, North Dakota since 1995,” Christenson said. “It’s been a great experience coaching at the state and national levels. It’s helped me become a better coach, which in turn I can bring back to my kids.”
Christenson even traveled to Bulgaria this past August as one of the team leaders for USA Wrestling. He has also spent plenty of time coaching and training athletes at the USA Olympic training site in Colorado Springs, even crossing paths with former Anamosa wrestling great Moza Fay over the last few years.
Christenson’s career has been nothing short of remarkable earning numerous state, district and conference Coach of the Year awards as well as Iowa USA Wrestling Developmental Coach of the Year honors multiple times.
His USA Wrestling Developmental Coach of the Year award in 2007 was a national honor.
“My dad’s philosophy was to always outwork everyone else on the mat,” Jason said. “I take that same philosophy but from a coaching standpoint. I will not be outworked. My work ethic comes from my dad, because in the end all I have ever wanted to do is make him proud.”