Fun and family are the foundations of brothers’ coaching legacy

Anders and Per Lars Blomgren built a wrestling dynasty on Vashon tracing back to their childhoods.

The sport of wrestling on Vashon has a long and outstanding legacy that spans several generations. But despite the hundreds, if not thousands, of islanders who have been involved with the sport here over the years, perhaps none are more synonymous with it than brothers Anders and Per Lars Blomgren. Wrestlers themselves since they were young boys, the two have been coaching together for 19 years — shaping the lives of multitudes of young people along the way.

“It’s tiring, hard, but totally worth it,” Anders Blomgren said of his lifelong pursuits in one of the oldest sports in the world. “Especially when you get to work with a like-minded, positive and tough person. Just having him [Per Lars] there makes it awesome.”

The two grew up on the island, attending Burton and Vashon elementary schools, McMurray Middle School and graduating from Vashon High School in 1993 and 1995 — all the while sharing a bedroom the size of a large closet, according to Per Lars Blomgren.

“I think that’s part of the reason we’re so close,” he said. “We had to get along, as there was no other option.”

Both men credit their father, Carl Blomgren, with giving them their start in wrestling, and describe family matches when they were young.

“We grew up in the woods, with no television,” Anders Blomgren said, “until we got a VCR to watch wrestling tapes. We wrestled on our living room rug — together, and occasionally with our parents.”

Per Lars and Anders Blomgren, young wrestlers in the early 1980s. (Courtesy photo)

Per Lars and Anders Blomgren, young wrestlers in the early 1980s. (Courtesy photo)

Carl Blomgren helped start Vashon’s Rockbusters youth wrestling program and wrote about wrestling for The Beachcomber. Mother Marcia Blomgren has been an active and ardent supporter.

“Our dad passed away five years ago, but he was an integral part of Vashon wrestling as a whole, on all levels,” Anders Blomgren continued. “And our mom has now probably gone to as many events to watch us coach as she did to watch us wrestle.”

“We are so fortunate to have had the best parents imaginable,” Per Lars Blomgren added.

Now in their early 40s and both teaching at Vashon High School, the brothers began wrestling when they were 5 and 7 years old (Anders is the older of the two) and continued through their college years. Both attended and wrestled at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and both were All Americans (SFU is the only Canadian college that competes in the NCAA). Per Lars, who says that he “cried before most of his matches and backed out of half of them” until he was 9, won a national championship in 2000. It was after that that the two began coaching together.

“We’ve always wanted to coach together,” Anders said. “We would talk about it and dream about it — moving back to Vashon to coach.”

As close as these brothers are though, they are not immune from remembering things … differently.

“It was never ‘The Plan’ to coach together,” Per Lars noted. “I didn’t really picture this [coaching for 19 years together and for the foreseeable future], but it was something that we did think about.”

Differing historical perspectives aside, the two hold much in common apart from their sport of choice, namely love, admiration and respect for each other, their families, athletes and colleagues.

“I love making a difference and providing something that is gratifying and rewarding,” Anders Blomgren said, explaining what he likes best about coaching. “I love having fun and working hard with our wrestlers, and getting better every day, and proving that we can all be a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

“Wrestlers are out there on their own, with no one to lean on,” Per Lars said. “This teaches them hard work, discipline and accountability. There is creativity involved too, which we take pride in encouraging. But there are feelings that come with coaching that can’t really be explained — there are some huge matches that our wrestlers win, where Anders and I end up jumping around like schoolchildren. It’s not so much that we won the matches, but that we recognize the incredible amount of work that gets put into each big match, and the feeling that we have during those matches is like no other.”

Their athletes and teams have racked up a long list of accomplishments over the past 19 years: 18 individual state champions, 33 state finalists, 83 state placers, five teams in the top four at state and 12 teams in the top 10. They have also won 10 dual meet league championships and eight district tournament titles. Each brother has coached six teams at Nationals, and they’ve developed three national All-Americans and three wrestlers who went on to win college All-American or National titles. It’s a program that has been so dominant, former major league baseball great John Olerud once told this reporter that it forced his son, who attended high school and once wrestled at Bellevue Christian, to switch sports.

The brothers coaching at State in 2010. (Courtesy photo)

The brothers coaching at State in 2010. (Courtesy photo)

And while the brothers have built what could rightfully be called a wrestling dynasty on the island, at the end of the day, those who know them say it is about more than the sport.

“It is hard to overstate what the Blomgren family has done for the Vashon wrestling community,” Cheryl Pruett, owner of Pandora’s Box, whose twin sons Chester and Clyde both wrestled with the brothers, said. “They have instilled a love of the sport, but more importantly than that, they have taught at least 1,000 kids what a strong work ethic looks like, how to be humble and gracious, how to be a good teammate and what true sportsmanship really looks like.”

Islander Dave Chapman, coach and parent of a former Vashon wrestler, explained it like this:

“Anders and Per Lars are highly respected in the wrestling community in Washington and across the U.S.,” he said. “My son Sam was a successful Vashon wrestler, achieving two state championships and placing all four years he competed at the State tournament. But that pales in comparison to what he has demonstrated each day in his life since high school. He, and many other wrestlers from the brothers’ past teams, exhibit the strength of family, hard work, friendships and the spirit of having fun that are the philosophical foundations of the program.”

And according to Andy Knutson, coach of what the Blomgrens call the “legendary” Lake Stevens wrestling team, Olerud’s son wasn’t alone.

“I’ve known Anders and Per Lars for over 20 years, since they were kids wrestling in high school,” he said. “I coached kids against them, and I will tell you, you did not want to wrestle them. It’s the same now that they are coaches. Competitively, you don’t want to go up against them. But personally, you want to spend 12 hours at a tournament with them because you love them — they are so genuine and fun-loving, and it’s really not about winning and losing for them. It’s about fun, learning and growing great kids. I just love coaching with them.”

The coaching community collectively has recognized the brothers with Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year awards more times than either really wants to confess to over the last two decades, with both earning the honors for the league this year. Anders Blomgren was just named the state’s 1A Coach of the Year this past weekend at the State tournament in Tacoma.

As for proteges, it seems that the brothers have at least one follower in their footsteps. Islander, VHS grad and former Vashon wrestler Logan Nelson is in his third year at the brothers’ alma mater, SFU. He is wrestling, as well as studying education and kinesiology. He plans to continue wrestling through his senior year and wants to be a teacher.

“I wrestled with the Blomgrens since I was 4 or 5 years old,” Nelson explained.” They taught me more than just the sport. I learned to push myself in everything I did, and to rely on my own strength as an individual. Their passion was really something that stood out to me.”

Nelson also said that he would love to coach wrestling some day.

Both Anders and Per Lars have their own families now, the importance and support of which they say they prize above almost all else.

Anders shares two step-daughters with his wife, Sarah Bunch.

“They’re not really into wrestling, but they are into gymnastics,” he said. “Which is awesome.”

Per Lars and his wife Alison are the parents of another set of Blomgren brothers, Soren and Otto. Two years apart, just like their uncle and dad, and at 5 and 3 years old, are already following in the family tradition.

Next-gen Blomgren brothers, Soren and Otto, are already following in their dad (Per Lars) and uncle’s footsteps. (Courtesy photo)

Next-gen Blomgren brothers, Soren and Otto, are already following in their dad (Per Lars) and uncle’s footsteps. (Courtesy photo)

“They have matches in our house in which they pretend that they are our high school guys,” Per Lars said, “which is really funny and great.”

Anders said that along with coaching them at Rockbusters, he is thrilled that he gets to referee his nephews in their living room.

Both brothers say that they are most proud of the relationships with wrestlers, coaches and families they’ve built over the years, and that they plan to keep coaching together.

“I will be coaching for another 15 years at least,” Per Lars Blomgren stated. “I imagine Anders will be with me for the ride. We have a great group of kids under 8, so I am very optimistic for a state-contending team in 2030 and beyond.”

But nothing compares to the relationship they have with each other.

“Coaching wouldn’t be nearly as good if I didn’t do it with my brother,” Per Lars said. “It’s so great to work together in this pursuit.”

“Coaching wrestling is my favorite part of my work day,” Anders Blomgren said of this lifetime partnership, “mostly because of my brother. He’s such a great man.”