Courier Staff Writer
It had been seven years since Kevin Cochran had donned his suit for the final night of the state wrestling meet.
In the back of his mind, he knew he might be putting on that suit for the final time on that stage.
Cochran officially announced a decision he had been considering for several weeks. The Ottumwa High School head wrestling coach stepped down after five years, a move that will allow Cochran to spend more time with his two children.
“Life is too short to miss out on these experiences,” Cochran said. “There are a lot of things you miss out on when your the head coach of a wrestling program. A lot of activities my kids are involved in. I don’t want to miss out on those things. I want to be there as their dad.”
Cochran has spent the last 17 years coaching wrestling, 11 years as a head coach and his last five years in Ottumwa. Prior to coming to Wapello County, Cochran oversaw the rise of another southeast Iowa program in Centerville and the production of one of the great prep careers in state history in four-time state champion T.J. Sebolt.
Prior to this season, Cochran hadn’t coached a state champ since leading Sebolt to his fourth title and Nick Pickrell to his second straight crown in 2006. Bulldog senior Karsten Van Velsor allowed Cochran to go out on the stage of the state wrestling finals, upsetting top-ranked Waverly-Shell Rock grappler Andrew Steiert and fourth-ranked Trey Blaha of Cedar Rapids Prairie to get to the 138-pound title match.
“The coaching staff and I always believed in Karsten,” Cochran said. “As a senior, he really stepped up for the entire team and was our leader the entire season.”
He also wrestled in high school and some in college.
Cochran, who has also been an educator for five years, has spent much more then the last 17 years involved with wrestling. A grappler himself in high school and college, the passion for the sport led Cochran back to teaching the sport on the mat while also using that passion to teach students in the classroom.
“Once it’s in your blood, it never comes out,” Cochran said of wrestling. “Becoming a teacher, though, was the best career change I could have made.”
After recently completing his administrative degree, Cochran is hoping to pursue an educational leadership role off the mats. Since taking over the Bulldog wrestling program that was struggling with a lack of numbers and victories, Cochran has helped build a foundation of success little by little culminating with the Bulldogs most successful overall season on the mat in Cochran’s five seasons.
Ottumwa finished with an 11-11 dual record this season, more wins than the previous four seasons had produced combined. VanVelsor and Kevin Childs, who improved from just two wins as a junior to a 29-win senior season, gave the Bulldogs multiple state qualifiers just a year after Ottumwa was shut out from the Class 3A state meet.
“I’ve worked with some quality assistant coaches at the high school and middle school and have seen more stability in the youth program,” Cochran said. “Ottumwa must continue to grow to compete at the state and CIML level.”
While Cochran is stepping away from the head coaching duties of the Ottumwa wrestling program, he does plan on continuing to stay involved in the program as his schedule allows serving as a volunteer to assist as needed.
“Coaching in Ottumwa has been a good experience,” Cochran said. “There has been growth in the program and growth in the athletes. I wouldn’t change a thing.”