A diamond in the rough

Singer’s wrestling program is an under-the-radar, talent producing system


Adam Cole

Erich Singer (off focus), special education teacher and wrestling head coach, watches the mats at a Topeka High wrestling practice.

Erich Singer, a special education teacher, has been Topeka High’s wrestling coach for 11 years.

“I started wrestling when I was a freshman in high school,” Singer said. “Actually, the reason I went out for wrestling was because I couldn’t get a ride to basketball practice. It was at 5 a.m. and my mom couldn’t give me a ride so I decided to go out for wrestling and it was one of those paths in life that accidentally turned out great.”

For Singer, the journey through wrestling — from wrestler to coach — has been a process of evolution and growth.

“When I was an assistant coach [at Topeka High], I was under Beau Vest who is the head coach at Midland University now,” Singer said. “I look back and I learned a lot, but not nearly as much as I wish I would’ve learned at that time. I can remember being all gung-ho and ‘we’re gonna practice so dang hard and everyone’s gonna be thinking the way I’m thinking’ and then I figured out everyone’s not thinking the way I’m thinking and wrestling is maybe not the most important thing in everybody’s life.”

“I want to let the wrestlers determine their own path,” Singer said. “Some guys are going to be talented skill-wise, some guys are going to work just as hard, if not harder than everyone else and they may never have the accomplishments that the others do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t love wrestling just as much or they can’t enjoy the sport as much everyone else.”

In 11 years at Topeka High, Singer has seen an increase in wrestlers coming through the program, but it hasn’t made his job any easier.

“The biggest factor in our program is the 501 middle schools ended wrestling somewhere around the early 2000s and that’s really been a negative for 501 wrestling teams at the high school level. A lot of our energy is spent recruiting kids in the hallways. It’s tough to get kids involved in something at the high school level, especially when they’ve never done it. There’s only so much time in a day and we’re going to recruit kids and trying to stay positive and energetic about it, but in practice we spend a lot of practice time going over things that other schools wouldn’t be going over at this point.

Through it all, Singer’s approach to the sport is one his wrestlers have taken notice of.

“Singer is a phenomenal coach,” Esai Gallegos, senior, said. “He’s able to take kids who have never wrestled in their lives and turn them into the best wrestlers this state has to offer. No coach starts with less and turns it into something great.”

“Topeka High’s wrestling program [and coach Singer] changed me from being this lazy and unmotivated teenager into a self determined, strong willed and mentally tough individual,” Connor Champney, senior, said.

Singer’s approach is one which has made a lasting impact with those who came through the program.

“I think it is very beneficial to wrestle at Topeka High because it will test your will,” Austin Tillman, a four-time state qualifier and class of ‘14, said. “As the years went by, Coach Singer worked out my mental toughness and helped me find the path for greatness. The mental toughness I have now definitely helps me in my everyday life.”