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Wrestling officiating a family affair for Slykhuis bunch

It’s officially wrestling season in South Dakota. For the Slykhuis family, it’s very much a part of life, but not in the same way it is for most. You see, they’re wrestling officials, which means they have the best seat in the house when it comes to prep wrestling in South Dakota.

On November 28th Clark Slykhuis ushered in his 21st year of being a wrestling ref with a meet in Parker. While he loves what he does, this event became more special because he got to share it with his nephew Maddix, who was officiating his first ever event.

“We try and mentor younger officials, have them do some JV [matches] while we watch and have them watch us. And it just happened,” explained Clark Slykhuis. “I’ve done it before with other officials, and it just so happened that this time was my nephew. Pretty special to have him out there.”

“And it’s just great, because me and him obviously have a good personal connection, so he can pretty much tell me whatever without sugarcoating it,” said Maddix Slykhuis. “I got the straight-up details to what I was doing right or wrong.”

Maddix’s dad Cory, who is an older brother to Clark, also has close to two decades of wrestling officiating experience under his belt.

“I think it was back in 1999 was the first year I started. And then that carried me through to 2017-ish, something like that,” Cory Slykhuis exclaimed. “And then I retired, I took a little break because my son was wrestling in high school so obviously, I didn’t want to miss that.”

Maddix, who is now 19-years old, and a pre-nursing major at the University of South Dakota, grew up wrestling for Tea Area, but for his father Cory and uncle Clark, they grew up wrestling in Scotland for local legend Jim Kocer.

“I love the small town feel that we had in Scotland, everybody kind of knew everybody down there. Mr Koser, Jim Koser, loved having him as my coach and I still see him helping,” Clark stated. “Jim would do anything for his wrestlers to make sure they had every opportunity that they could to wrestle, and he still continues that today. My 21 years doesn’t look anything like the resume Mr. Koser has. That’s for darn sure.”

“Jim Kocer was there, and Herb Harris was my first coach when I was a seventh grader. Herb Harris, he coached quite a few years at Parkston after he left Scotland,” explained Cory. “But he was there with Jim Kocer my seventh-grade year when I first went out. So there is a lot of knowledge right there between those two, between Herb Harris and Jim Kocer. It was good to start your career with a couple of people, a couple of legends like that, for sure.

Cory did not wrestle after high school, but Clark did at Dakota Wesleyan. A neck injury, however, ended his collegiate career before he was ready, which left Clark with an itching desire to find a new opportunity with the sport. Cory had recently become an official. For Clark, he thought this would be a good fit for himself as well.

“I wasn’t ready to leave the sport and my middle brother, Cory, was officiating and I thought that’s kind of a way that I can stay involved with the sport,” Clark told. “I have not missed being involved in wrestling, because I’m involved in officiating, and I get to be around the people that have a love and a passion for the sport.”

From there, the Slykhuis brothers became an officiating duo on the mat. Regional events, weekend meets, and state tournaments, the pair has seen it all. Both commented on how special wrestling is to them. For Cory, he enjoys the self-discipline that the sport demands.

“You go out on the mat and there is nobody else to blame but yourself if you lose. You can’t blame it on somebody not passing you the ball or somebody not giving you a shot,” said Cory. “It’s one against one, so, obviously, when you win it’s great, but the defeats are equally as hard to take as one would be. That’s the highlights that I enjoy about wrestling, is the individual aspect of it.”

For Clark, it’s about the bond that amongst athletes in the sport.

“I mean, sport of wrestling has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I think I started to wrestle at four or five years old. I’m the youngest of three boys, so you can about imagine wrestling around at home being boys and things like that,” chuckled Clark. “It’s hard to kind of tell somebody that hasn’t wrestled about that bond that we have because everybody’s like, oh, it’s an individual sport, this and that, which it is. But at the same time, I mean, each wrestler knows what it takes to go out there. You’re dieting, you’re run down, but you go out there and you go hand to hand combat with somebody else across from you and there’s nobody else out there. And you do that in the wrestling room, you do that as a team with points and things like that, but it just builds a special bond between everybody.”

With Clark and Cory jumping into the officiating scene, Maddix grew up watch his uncle and dad from the sideline. They’d take him to various wrestling events, including state tournaments.

“It was pretty cool growing up, going to see those higher-level matches, and that’s kind of what made me first fall in love with wrestling,” explained Maddix. “I was in youth wrestling for as long as I can remember as well, but going to those bigger atmospheres, the high school level, it was just cool to see my dad and Clark working the mat, but cool to see the higher level wrestling.”

Fast forward to 2023 and Clark, Cory, and now Maddix are working as wrestling officials in South Dakota. And while there are challenges in being a referee in today’s culture, being able to remain a part of the sport, while doing it together, is a memory they’ll remember forever.

Reprinted with permission


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