Sports History: Roosevelt Celebrates Wrestling Champ John Meeks

John Meeks poses with members of the Roosevelt cheer squad and a framed copy of the Des Moines Register.

Among all of the interscholastic sports, wrestling may make the best metaphor for life. After all, we all wrestle with someone or something at one time or another.

But few of us make it through every encounter undefeated. That’s what makes Roosevelt senior John Meeks’ high school career so remarkable.

If you ran a highlight reel showing one of John’s wrestling triumphs every hour it would take an entire week. Afterall, 24 x 7  = 168, and 168-0 is the mark he set as a high school wrestler. The numbers are so overwhelming they overwhelm even John himself, who prefers to take folks on one at a time, not in packs the way reporters and photographers and fans have been coming at him in recent days.

It was a full house at the Roosevelt auditorium to celebrate four-time state champ John Meeks.

This morning they only showed one match, his last one Saturday night at the state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena, in a celebratory assembly at Roosevelt High School because, in a way, with John Meeks it’s almost true that if you’ve seen one of his matches you’ve seen ‘em all.

His coach, Jay Groth, recalls two that stand out now as John’s closest calls. Both came in his freshman year. He fell behind in one 5-0 before rallying to win. In the other, he trailed until scoring a takedown with 10 seconds left to pull out a 3-2 win.

Coach Groth told the packed auditorium today that upwards of half a million kids have wrestled in Iowa high schools over the last 92 years. Until John Meeks came along, a grand total of five of them had achieved four state titles without dropping a single match.

Weight is a big deal in the sport. John’s title this year was in the 138 pound class after previously winning at 119, 125 and 130. But that steady climb up the weight ladder doesn’t even hint at how heavy the added pressure became, particularly last week as the chance to put his name alongside ones like Dan Gable, the Hercules of wrestling lore, finally became something John could grab and slap a full-nelson on.

The family surname couldn’t be more of a misnomer. Meek is defined in the dictionary as “deficient in spirit and courage; submissive; not…strong.” But John comes from a family of grapplers. Before he started conquering all comers during high school competition he absorbed enough whippings at the hands of his older brothers to remind him that anyone is beatable, even the undefeated.

Next year John will join one of his brothers on the wrestling squad at Iowa State. But first he’s taking a moment to relax, reflect and shed a ton or two of expectations. That giant whoosh heard today at Roosevelt when the doors swung open after the assembly and John went out to ring the victory bell on the school’s campus was a collective sigh of relief. According to John’s dad, the whole family is breathing a little easier this week.

Ironically, there was a moment during the assembly which finally got to John in a way that none of his opponents ever could. Surrounded by the teammates he’d summoned to the stage, John was trying to express his feelings about all the hoopla swirling around him. He seemed desperate for an escape maneuver. “We love you, John,” a girl hollered from somewhere in the crowd.

“Now that’s embarrassing,” he said, and everyone laughed.

Even in the uncomfortable hold of the spotlight John Meeks came up with the perfect counter.

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