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Coaching brothers energize, inspire Pirate wrestlers
Muscle Shirt Monday, Tye Dye Tuesday, Thug Thursday. It’s not theme nights at a college bar; it’s a strategy that wrestling coaches Anders and Per-Lars Blomgren use to keep their high school wrestlers energized through the final stretch of the winter season.
“If we feel great with how we’re doing, we try to add a little humor in the process,” Anders said.
In more than a dozen years coaching Vashon High School wrestlers, brothers Anders and Per-Lars Blomgren have become known not only for their fun and quirky personalities, but for their fierce passion for the sport of wrestling and the impact they make on high schoolers who find themselves on the Pirate mat.
“They’re like one of the teammates to me,” said AJ Sawyer, a senior who just completed his final season wrestling at VHS. “They are adults, but they join us when we’re wrestling and have the fun we do, and I don’t see that at other schools. They show they really care.”
Per-Lars and Anders, now 36 and 37, respectively, were earning praise on Vashon long before they became coaches. Anders and Per-Lars grew up on the island and followed in the footsteps of their father Carl Blomgren, an avid wrestler and volunteer coach. The two were among the first young islanders to wrestle with the Rockbusters, and in high school they both took state championship titles, a rare honor for the small island.
“We’re naturally good at it,” Per-Lars said. “But one of the biggest things is that I like team sports a lot, but with wrestling you get out of it what you put into it. There’s something extra special about that.”
Both men went on to wrestle for Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, the only Canadian university to compete in the United States’ college wrestling association. Anders was named an All-American wrestler and Per-Lars took a national championship.
With similar goals to teach in schools, be near their large island family and stay involved in wrestling, both brothers moved back to Vashon soon after graduation and took coaching positions at VHS. Per-Lars, who is now married with a child on the way, is a long-term math substitute and assistant coach for the team, while Anders, the older of the two, is the head coach as well as a popular English teacher.
The two say they’ve remained close over the years — they share a love of literature, poetry and music. But they both seem to come into their element when they’re on the mat, and with a couple other assistant coaches they’ve sustained the high school’s popular wrestling program, sending several young grapplers all the way to the state competition each year.
This winter six young wrestlers made it to State, where two placed in the top three in their weight classes. This season Anders also won Nisqually League Coach of the Year, an award voted on by other wrestling coaches in the league.
“Per-Lars and I are really passionate about teaching and coaching, but we get just as much out of it in terms of enabling these wrestlers’ dreams and their experiences,” Anders said.
Coaching can sometimes be easy between brothers, they say. They seem to share a certain intuition when it comes to wrestling and playing to each athlete’s strengths.
“We don’t have to have a whole lot of coaching meetings, not as many as other schools,” Anders said.
While some of the brothers’ best memories are of seeing Pirate wrestlers improve at the sport, they say they also enjoy the day-to-day moments that coaching young athletes provides — the yearly mustache growing contest, fun times on the bus to tournaments or break dancing on Thug Thursday. Their three-part philosophy for the team is to “work hard and smart, play your role for the team and have fun.” Many wrestlers graduate from the program with lifelong friends.
“There’s a lot of hard work; it’s not all fun and games,” Per-Lars said. “But I think we have more fun than most other programs.”