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Missouri's Secret Small Town Talent

A Missouri Town With A Smaller Population Than A Sold Out PPV Has Been Producing Top-Notch Talent In The Combat Sports World, Starting With High School Wrestling

There just may be an explosion of UFC talent from a Missouri town with a smaller population than a sold out PPV.

Wrestling has always been one of the strongest bases for decorated mixed martial artists. Long before DC was a double champ, or Khabib was the most dominant champion in one of the most stacked divisions in the sport, unknown wrestlers like Mark Schultz and Don Frye were emerging and dominating the first stars of the sport.

Anybody can be caught with a strike, but if you can control where the fight goes, you can control the fight.

If the average high school wrestling team in America has around 25 wrestlers, any team with 40 athletes or more would be described as “big.”

For multiple years in a row, Rolla High School in Rolla, Missouri, has had over 100 high schoolers go out for wrestling.

“23-26 kids is what we finished with that first year and then we made a push, obviously, and that led to an increase,” said Head Coach Marty Hauck. “By the third year here, we’ve had over 100 every year. Even with COVID last year, when it was kind of a down year, there was still over 90 that came in. We didn’t finish with that but that’s how many went out. This year, right now, our current roster is at 87, but we had over 100 come in.”

The women’s program also stands out, with over 50 athletes trying out.

How Wrestling Prepares Athletes For High-Level Success

Rolla is also home to Missouri S&T University, which houses around 6,000 students, possibly cutting your “family population” down by a quarter.

So what is it what makes so many students seek out the Rolla High School wrestling program?

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Whether it’s athletes trying to stay in shape for other sports or avid wrestlers, the coaching staff has not only taken pride in providing a welcoming and inviting atmosphere to all athletes, but they’ve taken multiple steps to implement new directives to keep the reputation of the program positive long after the hundreds of athletes part ways with the school.

“R.E.P.S. stands for relationships, education, passion, and servant leadership,” Hauck said. “That’s our goal that we really push relationships, obviously, then the education side; we learn through them.”

With three state champions on the coaching staff (and two four-time state champions) and an NCAA National qualifier who also happens to be a sports psychologist, Rolla High School wrestling has the know how to guide the athletes instead of dragging them.

In the name of learning and unity, the wrestling team even opens the doors up for other sports to come in and lead the way.

“I let the football coaches come in and run a practice,” Hauck said. “I just give them the room, ‘Hey, it’s yours.’ A lot of wrestling coaches go the other way, they try to tell the football coach how they can make the team better and how wrestlers are going to make their program better. We go the opposite way. We bring the football coaches in and say, ‘You got 100 kids with no pads running football practice in a padded room.’ Everybody has fun and it’s still athletic movements, still things we’re working on, still things that we can learn and they can see how it helps one and helps the other.”

The commitment to so many students in and outside of the program has led Hauck to change the way he views his own job title and responsibilities. He’s not out there coaching wrestlers; he’s coaching athletes.

It’s hard to imagine a high school could do much better than almost 10% of the student body being on one team in an individual sport, but with such unprecedented numbers already, who knows how high the ceiling is for Coach Hauck and the Rolla High School wrestling team.

One thing you can put your money down on, though, is that there just may be a hefty crop of UFC fighters and accomplished D-1 wrestlers coming out of the Ozark Conference.

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