Last Saturday, in a hot, crowded gym at Vashon Island High School, Anders and Per-Lars Blomgren greeted each other with coffee cups in hand and shared a laugh shortly before the start of the Vashon Rock Wrestling Tournament.
Then, it was tournament time. The brothers — both wrestling coaches for the high school — sat next to one another in folding chairs and watched intently at the wrestling matches involving their team members. When each match was finished, they got up to give each of their wrestlers a handshake, a pat on the back and a few words of support.
It was the twentieth time, in fact, that the Blomgrens have coached the Rock tournament together — their first was on December 30, 2000. The coaching duo has since taken a premier tournament for 1A schools — the division VHS is in — and expanded it to include several other divisions, including 4A.
The fact that they have organized the event for so long was not lost on either Blomgren when they sat down for an interview with The Beachcomber on Monday.
“I feel like this year is kind of special in that you get a little sentimental about former wrestlers, especially [those who are] connected to the tournament,” Per-Lars said. “We have a lot of former wrestlers come back and help — the ones we still have a tight connection with.”
Danny Rock, principal of VHS, told The Beachcomber in an email that the Blomgren brothers have done a great job running the tournament.
“Anders and Per-Lars have not only maintained the excellent reputation of wrestling on Vashon Island but have enhanced the community experience through their character and roles as educators in the schools,” he wrote. “The Rock is a massive undertaking and includes widespread community effort as well as strong relationships with other quality wrestling programs to make it a success.”
The Blomgren brothers took over organizing the Rock from a beloved coach of theirs, Mick Guglamo, who founded the tournament 30 years ago.
That happened when Guglamo, the head wrestling coach at the time, retired, and Anders was appointed his successor.
“Then I made sure my brother came back from college to coach with me,” Anders wrote in an email, while noting that Per-Lars was winning a National Championship for Simon Fraser University at the time.
When the Blomgrens were both on the island again, they were mindful of how their former wrestling coach approached the Rock tournament.
“He started it by wanting to have the best 1A teams in the state — and we’re a 1A school,” Anders said.
The Blomgrens have added more divisions — 2A, 3A and 4A — to the Rock tournament; 4A is the highest level of competition. Anders said when schools bigger than VHS participate in the Rock, it teaches those wrestlers respect.
“Because sometimes, 4A schools will be like, ‘Oh, they’re just a 1A school,” Anders said, “and they’ll all the sudden come here and be like, ‘Oh, wow. We’re going to keep coming to this school because they’re good.’”
He said the tournament is also a good way to showcase different wrestling styles.
The Blomgrens noted during The Beachcomber’s interview that it takes more than two people to put on a multi-school tournament.
One of the people they credited was BJ Nelson, assistant wrestling coach, and his wife, Desiree. While she does concessions and hospitality, he organizes the tournament floor and does other behind-the-scenes work.
Nelson complimented the Blomgrens, saying they’re “100% committed” to the tournament.
“They’re the reason why it happens,” he said.
Greg Farley, the wrestling coach for Granite Falls High School, who has known the brothers since their youth, praised the Blomgrens for their work in organizing the tournament — which, in his experience, has seen few glitches.
“You could be at a really good tournament that’s poorly ran. Now, they’re going to start on time and they’re going to end on time,” Farley said. “It’s because they organize it well.”
Andy Hamilton, wrestling coach at Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls, said he is particularly impressed with what the brothers have done with the Rock tournament.
“They’ve done it for so long now, most people know them as the main Vashon people,” he said. “It’s such a testament to how much they care about the community, how much they care about where they came from. … People want to come to the tournament because they’re so well-known.”
Back in 2000, when only 10 teams were part of the Rock, the wrestlers’ brackets — based on weight class — were printed out, placed on a wall and names were handwritten, Anders recalled.
“I would get faxes from coaches,” he said before bursting out laughing. “I don’t even know if we do faxes anymore.”
Scoring was also antiquated by today’s standards, the Blomgrens said. The stats were entered into a computer system and then posted on the wall the next day.
These days, the Blomgrens communicate with coaches via email and upload scores live on a website, which wrestlers and others are known to track on their smartphones as they come in.
“As soon as the match is over [and] the person wins, the bracket instantly changes on the computer, where both of their next matches are already ready,” Anders said. “It just rolls. We don’t have to enter that. That helps.”
Hamilton praised the Blomgrens for instituting electronic scoring of the competition.
“It makes for a very slick, very quick, fast-paced tournament,” he said. “They’ve really, in the last couple of years, done a really good job of going into the new technology age to do that, rather than just doing the paper copies, like it used to be.”
“A great tournament”
Hamilton and Farley spoke to The Beachcomber about what the Rock tournament and the Blomgrens have meant to their schools.
Hamilton said his team has been coming to the Rock tournament for years. He thinks it’s a good opportunity for the students.
“This is one of the few times that someone like us from [the] Spokane area can come over and wrestle these western schools over here that are in our division,” Hamilton said. “This is our only opportunity to see them before we get to state, a lot of times.”
Farley called the Rock, “a good tournament to … kind of gauge where you are in your season progression.”
“The whole experience”
Hamilton said having his wrestlers attend the Rock tournament on Vashon is a one-of-a-kind experience.
“We get in vans, we come over here, we go to a movie, we stay the night in the school. It’s just the whole experience of being with the team,” he said.
Anders said the experience off-island school wrestlers get from coming to the tournament is one of the reasons it is unique from other competitions in the state.
“They’ve never been on a ferry before. They’re looking around, looking for a whale,” he said.
But what also makes the Rock unique, according to Anders, is the prize the top three wrestlers receive.
“They take home a rock; we don’t have medals or trophies,” Anders said. “We have parents, we have wrestlers we have cheerleaders that have made these rocks from the island gravel pit and then painted them.”
The rock awards have apparently become a special thing for anyone who earns one, he said.
Anders has heard people say, ‘“You know what? We don’t have all of our trophies or medals, but we save our rock because it’s a really special tournament.’”
“They give you motivation”
For George Murphy, a wrestler and sophomore at VHS, the Dec. 28 match was the second time he had participated in the Rock. He said what makes it stand out from other tournaments is how well it’s organized.
“You know where you got to be when you got to be there,” Murphy said. “If you pay attention, you’ll be on time to everything. At other tournaments, it’s less organized. Sometimes, you don’t know when you’re going to have your next match, sometimes you do.”
He credits the Blomgren brothers with that organization.
“They’ve been through so many different tournaments and they know how they work,” Murphy said.
The Blomgrens are very encouraging and supportive of their wrestling team, he said.
“It’s great because when you win, they give you motivation and tell you what you did right and what you also need to work on,” Murphy said.
Per-Lars said merely watching the matches can be an intensive process.
“It’s great for us to see; we’re taking notes, we’re watching other wrestlers,” he said. “I feel like we do a pretty good job of not just watching these other matches, but taking notes as to what we really need to work on to beat their wrestlers.”
When it comes to the Rock, Per-Lars seems to enjoy the coaching part of it the most.
“Once the tournament starts, we have enough help where we can do probably what we’re best at and that is coach,” he said. “When we coach together, it’s the best.”