ORANGE CITY—Lyle Lundgren has been going to school for 57 years, but this year will be his last.
After 30 years of coaching wrestling and teaching high school physical education in the MOC-Floyd Valley School District, Lundgren is set to retire this spring.
“It’s been fun looking through my file cabinet drawers and coming across pictures of former wrestlers that I’ve had,” he said.
Lundgren came to MOC-Floyd Valley in 1991 to start the school’s wrestling program, which he’s coached every year since. In that time, he’s coached students whose parents wrestled for him in the early days of the program, a legacy that will be hard to replace.
“It’s been a great ride to plant the seeds for the first 30 years of wrestling here at MOC-Floyd Valley,” Lundgren said.
The wrestling room at the high school in Orange City is decorated with plaques for every state qualifier Lundgren coached. His office has more photos of wrestling teams and other memorabilia of victories.
However, the memories he said he’ll cherish most have less to do with the sport and everything to do with the relationships he’s built and the students he’s seen flourish with encouragement and perseverance.
“Those are the things that you’ll tuck away,” he said. “You’re going to talk about the things that were built that go far beyond technique and far beyond the games you played and far beyond the wins and losses.”
Lundgren’s coaching motto is “Champions of character, champions for life,” something he takes to heart outside the wrestling ring and into his P.E. classes. He views both as a way to help his students grow into the best version of themselves.
“My biggest role is to break down barriers,” he said.
His P.E. classes include units on camping, fishing, climbing and even miniature high ropes experiences in the high school gym. His goal is to have something for every student to enjoy and try their best at.
“I want to reach all kids, not just the athletes,” Lundgren said.
Whatever his students are doing, Lundgren is there in the mix. He’s 61, but still joins in every game or activity.
“If this old guy can do it, you can do it to,” he said. “I want the best that person can do. That’s my kind of M.O. in physical education is just give me your best. I’m not expecting you to be compared to somebody else, just do the best you can do.”
In 2016, Lundgren started a peer partnership program in P.E. where general and special education students are paired. The program has helped students achieve more in P.E. classes, but Lundgren said the biggest benefit has been the connections formed between student pairs who might not otherwise interact closely.
“The best reason is the relationships that we create,” he said. “My biggest role is to break down barriers, to let kids know that everybody is loved and everybody can be successful if they work at it.”
Working with special education students is one of the things Lundgren listed as most rewarding out of his 30 years of work.
So is leading MOC-Floyd Valley’s local huddle of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a nonprofit sports ministry. Lundgren started a local group when he came to Orange City in 1991 as a way to minister more directly with students who are Christians or show an interest in learning more about his faith.
On Sunday, Lundgren was honored by the Northwest Iowa Fellowship of Christian Athletes for his 38 years of service and ministry. He plans to continue leading the MOC-Floyd Valley huddle in retirement.
“It’s a great resource and it’s a great tool to reach kids,” he said. “To be a minister of God’s word in a setting that not too many other people have the opportunity to do is pretty cool.”
Thirty years of service to MOC-Floyd Valley wrestling leaves a legacy that’s almost larger than life, but Lundgren said he’s happy to be able to turn his responsibilities over to capable coaches and teachers.
“People say, ‘Wasn’t that hard, passing on the torch to someone else?’ And I said, ‘Not really,’” Lundgren said. “It’s not the Lyle Lundgren wrestling program, it’s the Dutchmen’s wrestling program.”
Assistant coach Preston Hoebelheinrich will take over as the head coach in the fall. Lundgren said he will be an outstanding coach and an excellent role model for young wrestlers. Hoebelheinrich has prosthetic legs and was a three-time state qualifier when he wrestled with Rock Valley/Boyden-Hull.
“To have an individual like that in the wrestling room and now as your head coach, it really shows that there are no limits,” Lundgren said. “That’s kind of cool and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Kyle De Berg, a recent graduate from the University of Northern Iowa, will be take over as high school P.E. teacher in the fall.
Lundgren’s retirement plans include making more time for family and fishing, but he’ll stay involved with wrestlers and young athletes in other capacities.
“I’m not hanging up my whistle completely,” he said. “I’m planning on staying involved in the youth program. I’ll definitely be at all the home meets cheering the kids on and probably running a score clock. Yeah, I mean I’m not going to go away.”
Five members of the MOC-Floyd Valley School District staff are retiring at the end of the school year. They are:
- Lyle Lundgren, physical education teacher and wrestling coach at Orange City High School.
- Mark Miller, custodian at Hospers Elementary.
- Vonda Vander Berg, third-grade teacher at Orange City Elementary.
- Diane Vander Ploeg, first-grade teacher at Hospers Elementary.
- Beth Vander Werff, first-grade teacher at Orange City Elementary.