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Wrestling: Toops walking into winning situation at Pierz

When Skip Toops seized the reigns of the Moorhead High School wrestling program six years ago, the Spuds hadn't been to a state tournament in 32 years.

Moorhead wrestling coach Skip Toops is leaving the Spuds to coach the Pierz Pioneers. David Samson / The Forum
Moorhead wrestling coach Skip Toops is leaving the Spuds to coach the Pierz Pioneers. David Samson / The Forum

When Skip Toops seized the reigns of the Moorhead High School wrestling program six years ago, the Spuds hadn't been to a state tournament in 32 years.

He proceeded to guide the Spuds to three straight Section 8-3A titles (2013-15), three fifth-place finishes at state and coached two individual state champions.

The 34-year-old wasn't actively pursuing another a job, but a posting for a physical education and health instructor and head wrestling coach at Pierz piqued his interest. He discussed the opportunity with his wife, Ashley, and a desire to have their four children grow up in a small town-like both of them did-led them to make a difficult decision.

So Toops pursued the Pierz job and Wednesday the Pierz School Board hired him to teach physical education and health in grades 7-12 and be the Pioneers' next head wrestling coach.

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Skip Toops

Moorhead High School (2011-present)

  • Head varsity wrestling coach
  • Section 8-3A coach of the year (2014, 2015)
  • Section 8-3A team champions (2013, 2014, 2015)
  • Class 3-A team state consolation champions (2013, 2014, 2015)
  • Career coaching record: 105-45
  • 26 individual state qualifiers
  • 8 individual state placewinners
  • 4 individual state finalists
  • 2 individual state champions

Crookston High School (2010-11)

  • Assistant varsity wrestling coach
  • Section 8-1A Final Four (2011)
  • 5 individual state qualifiers
  • 2 individual state placewinners
  • 1 individual state finalist

Mentor (Ohio) Public Schools (2007-08)

  • Junior High Wrestling Coach
  • Memorial Junior High Assistant varsity wrestling coach

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"We are very excited about landing Skip Toops as our new wrestling coach," Pierz athletic/activities director Dave Rocheleau said. "I knew a little about Skip from the wrestling world and knew he could help us in wrestling. but after meeting and interviewing him, I know he is not only going to help us there, but with all our students in our school community. He is a class act and a true educator."

Toops succeeds Mark Jensen who will retire following this school year.

"To move my family and to take a different opportunity it had to be the perfect opportunity," Toops said Thursday. "It had to be a smaller community. A smaller school, with a rich wrestling tradition. A school that's a great school with great academics. (Pierz) hit every check mark.

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"When I saw Pierz had an opening for a head wrestling coach and high school phy ed teacher, it was something I felt like I had to consider. Something that I had to apply for. Ultimately, when the opportunity came, my wife and I decided it was an opportunity we had to pursue."

Toops is walking into one of the state's top wrestling programs. In 20 years at Pierz, Jensen compiled a career record of 379-112-2. His Pioneer teams went to state 14 times, winning state championships in 2004 and 2005.

The Pioneers have been to seven consecutive state tournaments, including a runner-up finish in this year's Class 1A state meet.

"I'm looking forward to coming there and learning the Pierz Way. Learning what makes them so successful," Toops said. "I'm not planning on going in there and changing things and replacing a system. I'm going in there to try to keep going what they've got going."

Toops, 34, is a 2002 New London-Spicer High School graduate. His wife grew up and graduated from high school in Velva, N.D., a small town 50 miles east of Minot, N.D.

After high school, Toops played one year of baseball at Iowa Central Community College before transferring to Minnesota State-Moorhead where he wrestled four years.

He taught one year in Crookston before going to Moorhead. His children, three boys and a girl, range in age from 3-8.

At Moorhead, he helped the Spuds become an annual Section 8-3A contender. The Spuds went to state seven years in a row, from 1975-81, but didn't return until Toops became head coach.

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"I would say we were blessed to come there at a really good time with a bunch of really good kids. Kids that were good athletes. Kids that were wrestlers. Kids that weren't afraid to work hard," Toops said. "I had great assistant coaches. Matt Nelson and John Wychor had been there a year before me. They stayed around and continued to coach with me five years after that. Without those guys, none of it would have been possible. "I tell people all the time, when you've got good kids, who have a good attitude and are willing to work hard, you can accomplish a lot. (Spuds wrestlers) put in time. They made sacrifices. They busted their butts. They put in time during the season and during the offseason in the weight room. They bought into our mentality. They bought into what we were preaching and what we were working toward. They did amazing things."

Pierz also has a quality baseball program, finishing third in Class 2A last season. Toops also happens to be an assistant baseball coach for Moorhead. Toops would welcome an opportunity to become involved with Pierz baseball if the situation arises.

"They have a heck of a baseball team," Toops said. "Their amateur ball is pretty awesome, too. I'm open to anything. I'm not going to come in there and push my way into anything.

"I love baseball. I've been playing baseball and coaching baseball my entire life. If an opportunity opens up, I would be more than willing to help."

Related Topics: WRESTLINGPIERZ PIONEERS
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