In the long storied history of Janesville Parker’s wrestling program, two names stand out.
The first one is Ron Cramer. He built the program into a Big Eight Conference dynasty as head coach for over 30 years.
The other is Shane Fleming. He is Parker’s lone state champion, winning a Division 1 title in 1986.
With the program struggling the last few years to consistently fill all 14 weight classes at the varsity level, Fleming is returning to his roots. He was recently hired as Parker’s new head coach, replacing Danny Jackson, who resigned after the 2017-18 season. Fleming had served as Jackson’s assistant coach.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Fleming said this week. “This program is close to my heart and has meant a lot to me.
“When Danny told me to apply after he stepped down, I was a little hesitant to because it’s a big responsibility. But the more I thought about it, the more I kept telling myself that I have to at least apply. I’m thankful for the opportunity I was given and look forward to getting this program back on top.”
Parker dominated the Big Eight under Cramer, winning a combined 47 conference dual-meet or tournament titles.
The last decade or so, however, Parker has struggled. Low numbers in the program, especially at the upper weights, have forced the Vikings to forfeit three, four and even five matches per meet, at times, something that never happened under Cramer’s watch. That’s not to say that decreasing participation rates are the fault of previous coaches, but they are at least one piece of the puzzle Fleming must solve.
“There’s no magic bullet as far as how to get this turned around right away,” Fleming said. “Mental toughness is the biggest thing we have to instill in these kids. We can get kids in shape, and they can know all the moves, but until they conquer that fear of failure we’re not going to move forward.
“Once they start realizing that anybody can beat anybody once you step on the mat, and that by working harder every day and giving 110 percent every time you wrestle, good things will happen.”
Fleming said he won’t have many returning varsity-level wrestlers next season, but he said the future is bright thanks to a strong crop of talented wrestlers at the middle school level that will be attending Parker in the next couple years.
Parker may struggle in the first year or two under Fleming, but he hopes it’s a short setback.
“Our goal is to beat (Janesville) Craig within three years,” Fleming said. “Coach Mullen has them at the top right now, and that’s where we’d like to be.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m surrounding myself with some great assistant coaches and a good group of supportive parents. And we’ve already had good turnouts at a couple of our open-mat nights. I think everybody is excited about what’s ahead for this program.”