CCA Wrestling coaches Kyle Forness (right) and Jackson Litterer (left)
Your Prep Sports
TIFFIN – Clear Creek Amana wrestling coach Kyle Forness and his wife, Caitlin, were in the middle of one of adulthood’s significant passages: purchasing their first home. He was established as a teacher and head wrestling coach in the CCA system, and she was a newly minted pharmacist.
Separated for the first year of their marriage by two pharmacy residencies, they were ready to be settled.
Then life intervened.
“It’s June; it’s hot and we’re sweaty and moving furniture,” Kyle Forness said. “We’re getting it all out of one place and into another. We’re in transition, and I get this voicemail. I called back right away. It was not what I thought it was.”
“You’re leaving,” he was told.
“It caught me off guard,” Forness said.
It was the Army Reserve notifying him that he was to be mobilized in October.
“Usually you get a year notice,” he said.
Forness called middle school principal Brad Fox.
“Because now they don’t have a science teacher,” Forness said.
He called athletic director Kurt Ronnfeldt. He called relatives, and then he notified his coaches.
“I think we met the next day to get a plan moving forward,” Forness said.
Jackson Litterer, one of the assistants and a fellow middle-school teacher, was planning on coaching the middle-school team this season. But that was before Forness’s call.
Litterer, like the other assistants (Adam Endres, Lee Hansen, Brandon Hudson) and the Clipper club coaches (Jessie Whitmer, James Scranton, Bill Nash), gathered to consider the future.
“CCA is a work in progress,” Forness said. “We’re trying to build a culture. It’s hard. It does not happen overnight. I’m head coach and we have titles and that’s fine, but none of us is more than what the program is.”
Forness identified his duties with the program, the things the others would need to pick up in the interim so the program continues to progress.
“We kind of have like a 10-year goal to when we hope to be in a winning, championship-level program,” he said. “We just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page. It’s about the program. The focus is to do what’s right for our kids.”
Among the assistants, Litterer was the only one who was in the school district as a math teacher in the middle school.
“I’m in the school and in the same lifestyle that our students are,” he said. “The other guys have other jobs. My No. 1 job is being a teacher.”
So he was tabbed to be the interim head coach.
“I don’t look at it like I’m the guy,” Litterer said. “I’m just kind of the point man. I didn’t come here with aspirations to be a head wrestling coach. I’m excited for the opportunity to not only help out my friends but help with the things we’re trying to do here at Clear Creek.”
Litterer, 25 and a Wartburg graduate, had been a voluntary assistant for a year and paid assistant for another. He is also an assistant in football, track and softball.
He had a stellar four-sport prep career at Waverly-Shell Rock, as quarterback in football, a reserve for a 26-1 basketball team and winning a state 400 hurdles title and a Drake Relays title in the shuttle hurdle relay.
He played football and baseball for the Knights. He also officiated high school baseball, basketball and wrestling.
The fact that he hasn’t wrestled since seventh grade is a bit misleading. His father, Dave, was a long-time wrestling coach and is the athletic director at Waverly-Shell Rock.
As a multi-sport athlete Jackson Litterer had experience with many different coaches and in many different roles.
He was the starting quarterback in football and, as he says, the No. 11 guy on the basketball team.
“That helps me relate to athletes,” he said.
He never lost his love for wrestling even as he tried basketball in high school, and his passion for kids and coaching is evident.
Forness believed in him, and after all it was going to be a group effort.
“There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that a head coach does that I’m finding out,” Litterer said. “But when it comes to actually working with our guys, when we talk about practice plans and when we talk about anything that has to do with the program, it’s definitely collaborative.
“Even when Kyle was here that’s how it’s always been. We definitely look at him like he’s our leader, but it’s a we thing here, and that’s something that we’re very proud of.”
Endres, called “the technician” by the wrestlers, has been with the program for eight years. He provides a good balance with Litterer. Hall of Fame softball coach Jim White has taken over the middle school coaching.
And Forness, who is stationed in Texas and working to prepare troops to serve overseas, stays in touch almost daily with Litterer. He also watches tape and through Face Time can watch matches.
But it’s not like this was going to be a run-of-the-mill season.
“The first week of practice was just so different,” Litterer said. “That was something we had to learn to work through. It was hard; it was different. But we couldn’t use it as an excuse.”
“At first it was kind of scary, but Coach Litterer did a nice job stepping in,” senior Tanner Cochran said.
“We thought it was a big deal at first,” sophomore Sam Stevens said. “It seemed like he’d be gone for a long time, but it’s better than him going overseas.”
For his part, Forness felt guilty, particularly for leaving during Cochran’s last season.
“That hurts,” he said. “I feel like I kind of let them down. I look at them as my kids in a way, so that’s difficult.”
He might be surprised and gratified to find that while they notice his absence, his “kids” have weathered the transition pretty well.
“He’s intense,” Cochran said of Forness. “Obviously he has a certain kind of presence.”
“There’s obviously a little emptiness in the room, but we’re trying to focus on our goals,” Stevens said. “Coach Litterer has lots of energy so he’s kind of like that too.”
“It’s not really that different,” Cochran added. “We’re just trying to keep things going while he’s gone so when he gets back he can pick up right where he left off or even ahead a little bit,” Cochran said.
Forness’s deployment ends Oct. 31, 2018. Clipper wrestling plans to be humming along ready for his return.