Skopec to be inducted into Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame

North Tama teacher, coach included as member of 1974-75 Panther team

North Tama high school science teacher and former UNI Panther wrestler Mike Skopec pictured in his classroom on Monday, March 6 in Traer. On January 24, the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame of Iowa announced this year’s inductee list which includes the 1975-75 UNI Panthers wrestling team for which Skopec was a freshman reserve. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

It’s been nearly 50 years since Michael Skopec wrestled for the University of Northern Iowa Panthers, but come this June it might seem like only yesterday as the longtime North Tama science teacher and his fellow 1974-75 Panther wrestlers are inducted into the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame of Iowa.

“I am honored to be included as a member of the team, even though I was only a freshman reserve [in 1974-1975],” Skopec said when asked to comment on the honor.

Despite wrestling for the Panthers during just that one season due to subsequent knee surgeries, Skopec cherishes the experience as part of his career as both a highly esteemed high school science teacher and multi-sport coach of more than three decades.

Skopec, 67, first took to the wrestling mat during his middle grade years at what was then Harding Jr. High School in Cedar Rapids following an introduction to the sport in P.E. class, he said.

“I think I was about 75 pounds in seventh grade and not very tall so wrestling was a better fit for me than basketball.”

Mike Skopec pictured in the old Iowa Field House during the 1974-75 Iowa Hawkeyes–UNI Panthers dual. Skopec wrestled for the Panthers’ junior varsity squad during his freshman year at UNI. His father, the late Francis Skopec took the photograph. PHOTO BY FRANCIS M. SKOPEC

After finding he had a talent for the sport, Skopec continued his wrestling career at Kennedy High School. He first wrestled on the sophomore team at 105 pounds.

“We had a separate sophomore team from the varsity [at that time],” Skopec explained, “and the sophomore team won the Mississippi Valley conference title.”

As his high school career progressed, Skopec slowly inched up the weight bracket moving from 112 pounds his junior year to 119 pounds his senior year.

“I never did qualify for the [wrestling] state tournament,” Skopec said “My junior year I had to wrestle the eventual state champion from Cedar Rapids’ [Washington High School] several times and didn’t manage to beat him.”

In his senior year, however, Skopec tore up the wrestling mats going 22-2 during the regular season before coming up short in the postseason and missing out on the state tournament.

The 1974-75 University of Northern Iowa wrestling team including Mike Skopec (third row from bottom, second from left). PHOTO COURTESY OF UNI

“[I was] beat by a Prairie wrestler and missed a chance to wrestleback when he lost,” Skopec said.

Skopec graduated in 1974 but that would hardly be the ending note to his wrestling career as he went on to attend the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where he became a member of the wrestling team led by UNI Hall of Fame coach Chuck Patten.

“I wrestled [junior varsity] during the 1974-1975 season a few times in tournaments and at Iowa against the Hawkeyes,” Skopec said. “I pinned my Hawkeye opponent, which was probably my biggest accomplishment.”

Skopec said the energy surrounding that dual was electric even for the junior varsity matches.

“The JV match was right before the varsity wrestled in the old Iowa Field House with a full house waiting for the varsity matches.”


As a Panther, Skopec wrestled at 126 pounds in competition but also took to the mat against varsity wrestlers at 118, 126, and even a few at 134 in practice.

“The varsity people at all of the weights were outstanding wrestlers.”

Following graduation from UNI and after student teaching at Mason City where he helped coach the high school wrestling team, Skopec took a position teaching 8th and 9th grade science at North Tama – spending his mornings at the Clutier attendance center before heading back to Traer in the afternoons.

He very quickly found himself back on the wrestling mats, coaching junior high wrestling beginning with the 1978-79 season.

“I coached junior high Redhawk wrestling at North Tama for 35 years,” Skopec said. “[I] was very fortunate to have athletes that had vast experience in youth wrestling with a youth program that had Pep Cochran and Elmer Bradley and others coaching them.”

In addition to wrestling, Skopec also helped coach Redhawk football, track, and cross country.

Although he no longer coaches, North Tama’s last two wrestling seasons have been a joy for him to experience as many of his former students and athletes are now parents including Andrew Knaack and brothers Matt and Josh Rausch.

Knaack is the current wrestling head coach and father of 2023 state medalist Kolt Knaack, while Matt Rausch is the father of wrestler Gavin Rausch, a state qualifier this year, and Josh Rausch is the father of Jadyn ‘Jade’ Rausch, a member of this year’s inaugural Redhawk girls high school wrestling team.

“I am glad that the Redhawks are having success again on the mat,” Skopec said. “I have had a lot of their parents in school or sports so it is nice to see the growth of the sport again.”

From those early years on the Harding mats in Cedar Rapids to the NCAA Division II Panther mats to the red-walled Redhawk wrestling room where he coached future state qualifiers, it’s certainly been a storied wrestling road for Skopec.

And this June 23, Skopec will add one more arc to that story as he is inducted into the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame of Iowa at the Dan Gable Wrestling Musuem in Waterloo alongside members of the 1974-1975 UNI wrestling team.

According to a press release announcing this year’s class of inductees, the 1974-75 Panther team “was a dominant force in the mid-1970s, compiling a 15-4 dual record and winning the State of Iowa’s first-ever NCAA Division II national championship.”

“Five UNI [wrestlers] reached the finals of the national championships, including Dave Cunningham (118 pounds), Jim Miller (134 pounds), Ken Snyder (142 pounds), Dick Erickson (177 pounds) and Randy Omvig (HWT). Miller and Snyder both won their second consecutive national titles, while Omvig won his first.”

The team was previously inducted into the UNI Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.

As he reflects back on his wrestling career including his coaching years, Skopec said he has nothing but respect for those that wrestle – no matter how far they make it on the mats.

“Wrestling is a grueling sport and it takes a lot of courage to step out on the mat where it is you against the opponent,” Skopec said. “I have had a lot of success in my athletic endeavors with running races of all distances and I think that the self-discipline that wrestling taught me helped me achieve that success.”

North Tama also has connections to two other members of the 1974-75 UNI team, Skopec said, including inductee Dave Cunningham who taught elementary P.E. for the district while also working as the head wrestling coach, and Ken Snyder whose nephews wrestled for the Redhawks.

The full 1974-75 UNI wrestling team roster includes Stanley Allen, Michael Asche, Jon Bagenstos, Gary Bentrim, Jeffrey Billerbeck, James Blasingame, Richard Briggs, Russell Clark, Stephen Coon, Thomas Cornally, David Coulter, David Cunningham, Larry Dawson, Dallas Deike, Joseph Deutsch, Randy Dodd, Michael Eremieff, Richard Erickson, Lowell Ewalt, Kevin Finn, Thomas Garcia, Al Garrison, Ron Gomis, Alan Halferty, Paul Herder, Thomas Hinschberger, Cassim Igram, Dan Keller, Dick Kennedy, Kurt Mattison, Bruce McClure, Nolan Meggers, Jeffrey Melvin, Gary Meyers, James Miller, Randall Omvig, Ronald Ott, Chuck Parsons, Stephen Pate, Kenneth Peterson, Lars Sacquitne, Lonny Silber, Michael Skopec, Kenneth Snyder, Lawrence Soderberg, Dana Sutherland, Randall Terpstra, Hal Turner, Russell Vermie, Paul Viktora, Paul Vornbrock, Mark Wakeland, John Wistey and Michael Woodall.