Hesperia Wrestling - building Championship programs

By Jeff Chaney
Michigan Grappler Staff Writer

Doug Baird says it's been a simple formula for success in Hesperia – have great
kids that are willing to work hard in a great community and the wins will come.

Baird, who for the last 18 years has been coaching wrestling and cross country
at Hesperia, has seen plenty of wins at the small Division 4 school north of

He and assistant coach Craig Zeerip, who was the head wrestling coach from
1991-2001 before Baird took over the head job and Zeerip slipped to the
assistant position, have led the wrestling team to one state championship in
2008 and four runner-up finishes.

And as the cross country coach, Baird has led the boys team to two state
championships in 2004 and 2006 and one runner-up finish in 2007, and the girls
team to the 2010 and 2011 championships.

“I'm getting tired,” Baird said. “This is 23 years of coaching three sports (Baird
also coaches middle school boys and girls track). When you work at small
school you have that, but I just enjoy being around the kids and lucky that all of
our programs successful.”

“For 21 straight seasons, not years, the varsity boys and girls cross country
and wrestling team have advanced to state finals, and I'm proud of that,” he
added. “And something else, we have had 20 top 10 finishes in that time. It's been a great ride, and I don't know how long it can go. The programs all in good shape. People are all on board -- it's a true family affair here at Hesperia.”

Now Baird's attention is on the wrestling team. It's a program that has produced 25 individual state championships since 1997 to go with those team state champion and runner-up finishes.

Before 1990, the school had just one individual champion.

Zeerip, whose three boys, Justin, Collin and Brandon, were all multiple state champions for the school who now wrestle at the University of Michigan, say he and Baird work well together.

“You can see the success we have had, we have a great friendship,” said Zeerip, who wrestled himself at Fremont High School and Ohio State University. “He helped me out when I was coach, and now I wanted to help him. He has been generous and shared the wealth.”

Zeerip had success as head coach, leading the Panthers to the state semifinals in 1991 and the quarterfinals the next year.

This year both are working with a young squad that has potential, and showed it during the first week of the high school wrestling season.

Wrestling in the 1 st Annual Dorothy McClenathan Memorial Tournament, a tournament that had some of the best

Division 1 and 2 teams competing in it, Hesperia took fifth in the 14-team field.

And the Panthers crowed two individual champions, as Zach Yates, whose older brother Dan was also a multiple state champion who now wrestles at U of M, won at 119, and Brett Martin won at heavyweight.

“This team is very young,” Baird said. “We start seven sophomores. We lost six all stater wrestlers from last year, so we are in a rebuilding mode.

“But we are challenging kids now coming to a tournament like (the Dorothy McClenathan Memorial), and hopefully that pays off dividends. We have to go against a Shelby team that is loaded with seniors, so we are challenging them now and hope that pays off.”

Baird hopes that pays off with another trip to Battle Creek for the team state championships and another shot at a team title.

“We have a lot of people that care about wrestling in Hesperia from top to bottom,” Baird said. “From our youth program to middle school to high school. And expectations are high. We've made it to Battle Creek 12 times since 1996 and eight times in a row. That's what the kids expect.”

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Baird at the 2011 Team State Finals.  Photo/Mid Michigan Sports Scene