WDC wrestlers rally around coach diagnosed with cancer
On the back of the WDC Wolverine wrestling shirts this year, two letters stand out—“JB.” Those letters are to honor longtime assistant wrestling coach, Jerry Breid, who was diagnosed with cancer this fall.
Coach Breid has been a fixture in the Wolverine wrestling program for more than 28 years. Breid wrestled on some of the first Wadena wrestling teams in the early 1960s. The 1963 graduate compiled a 43-14-5 record and won a Mid-State Conference Championship in 1962.
After stops in Mapleton, Minn., and Detroit Lakes as a science teacher and wrestling coach, Breid returned home to farm in the mid-1980s. A return to his alma mater on the mat followed in 1986. He spent every year in the program from the 1986-87 season until the end of last season. He, along with head coach Denny Kaatz and assistant Mike Kenney, transformed the Wolverine wrestling program into one of the top teams in the state, ending the run of state tournaments for Staples in 1991, and advancing to state tournaments in 1992, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Breid would have returned to the mat for a 41st season but a doctor’s visit this fall and several trips to Rochester revealed pancreatic cancer. Breid made the decision in early November to focus on his treatments and fighting the disease and not return to the mat.
“It was definitely one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had,” said current WDC head wrestling coach Norm Gallant. “Jerry and I have worked together since I started here as an assistant in 1998. He’s been a real mentor to me, a trusted assistant coach, and he is a great friend. HIs contributions to our program are immeasurable. Not having him in the room full time is going to really hurt. We’re both pretty emotional; there were definitely tears shed.”
When it comes to wrestling, Breid is an excellent technician. “He is a true student of the sport. He is able to breakdown the technique and teach it in a way that kids understand and respond to,” Gallant said.
Over the last 16 years, Breid has also focused on the mental aspect of the sport, spending the beginning of each practice teaching the mental aspects of athletics and sport. He also has developed a system of self-evaluation that has been adopted by the wrestling program that has had a huge impact on the development of the student-athletes.
“Jerry’s role in the program has evolved over the years, but he has always been instrumental in the development of the young wrestlers in the junior high part of the program,” said Gallant.
The wrestling team will keep Coach Breid in their thoughts this season, including hosting a “Take Down Cancer” event at the Dennis Kaatz Wrestling Invitational on Saturday, Nov. 29 in Wadena. The event will raise money for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research Fund. Donations can be sent to WDC Middle/High School at 600 Colfax Ave SW Wadena MN 56482, dropped off with Norm Gallant, or brought to the tournament on Nov. 29. The tournament starts at 10:30 am.
Former head wrestling coach Dennis “Denny” Kaatz had the chance to talk to Breid since his diagnosis. A year and a half ago, Kaatz began his own battle with cancer when he was diagnosed with mantel cell lymphoma. After chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant, Kaatz is looking forward to winning the battle, too.
“We shared some of our experiences and I hope he gained some insight into the journey,” Kaatz said, adding. “Jerry and I talked about how our wrestling background helped in preparing mentally for our battles. Every time you get knocked down, you get back up and battle. You never give up in wrestling and Jerry will not give up in this battle either.”