Juneau-Douglas High School senior John Nichols has a couple medals to show from his wrestling career.
If he can just find them.
“They are buried somewhere at home,” Nichols said. “They are championship match medals. I did not even know about them until my mom and I were going through some old photos.”
Medals are not why John Nichols wrestles.
The two match medals come from preschool and kindergarten collegiate style wrestling in Kodiak.
“I have some small fragmented memories of that,” Nichols said. “They were both championships against my best friend, the first time I got second and the next time I got first.”
Kodiak was where John lived for six-and-a-half-years with his mother Brandyln, his younger brother Jason, and his alcoholic biological father.
“I am disconnected from my real father,” Nichols said. “And I am not unhappy about that. Bad family issues and he was an alcoholic. He wasn’t around, and when he was, well, he still wasn’t. It didn’t matter to me that he wasn’t around, but I was really protective of my brother Jason. My brother mattered more to me than I did.”
Nichol’s life has always been that of a good teammate.
“That was how I was raised,” Nichols said. “Jason and I bicker like brothers do. He is a freshman at JD and a great athlete. He can just run and run and run. I am excited that we both get to do track together this year.”
The family moved to Juneau in July of 2001 at the end of kindergarten and just in time for first grade.
In 2002 his mother married his now stepfather Josh McDonald. Sister Keelyn was born in 2003 and Nichols stated she is a fine gymnast, swimmer and highland dancer.
“If you look up the definition of father in the dictionary, the definition of it would be my stepfather,” Nichols said. “Without my stepdad being around I don’t think I would be the person I am today. I tell him that over and over again.”
McDonalds’ close friends were Floyd Dryden assistant wrestling coaches Tommy and Jason Cox. When he became an Eagles’ sixth grader, Nichols joined the wrestling team under legendary middle school coach Geoff Harben.
“My parents wanted me to do it,” Nichols said. “I got hooked again my sixth grade year. I just loved it. I loved having fun just rolling around, I was one of those kids. I was a little rusty, but I was decent.”
Wrestling was also a perfect fit for a youngster with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“Going through school at a younger age it was hard for me to focus,” Nichols said. “School didn’t interest me. Over the years I just kept working at it, and now I am on the path to graduate. When I was younger I was one of those kids who couldn’t sit still for 10 seconds. So when I was in middle school I always looked forward to practice after school. I could sit still in school because I knew I was going to be moving a lot.”
Nichols improved throughout those years.
“I loved that my parents put me in it and I thank them for it,” Nichols said. “They always encouraged me to do better at everything, to work at what I can and just make the most of it.”
In the Southeast Middle School Regional Tournament at Ketchikan his sixth grade year Nichols finished 3rd at 75-pounds and seventh-grade regionals saw him finish 2nd at 85-pounds.
His eighth-grade season featured another 2nd place finish in the regional tournament held at FD. Nichols wrestled at the 105-108 pound division.
He also played football and track.
“Wrestling is just something I love to do,” Nichols said. “But I wanted to get bigger. Football became my focus.”
Nichols took his freshman year off the mat and onto the football field.
Weighing only 135-pounds he played corner back on the Crimson Bears, a sport he continued through his senior season.
Sophomore year he wrestled at 145-pounds under coach John Smith.
“I stopped again my junior year,” Nichols said. “I did not feel the drive and still weighed only 150.”
Close friend, and teammate, Jerry “JD” Hudson pushed Nichols to start again.
“My friend JD got me rehooked on it,” Nichols said. “He made me promise him that I would and he wanted me to do it. It has been a lot of fun.”
The two also are members of the JDHS Cheer & Stunt team.
A season of lifting during this football season with defensive coach Al Fenumiai put on about 20 pounds of muscle and Nichols leaned in at 172. It was curbed down to 164 for wrestling.
Nichols used the last name McDonald during the football season and that senior night was more poignant.
“What has happened here in Juneau since I first arrived, all the changes in my life, they have all been here,” Nichols said. “The things that have mattered happened here and have given me the life I have now. I would not be that person without him and my mom. I would not be the person who wants to graduate, go to college for business and further my education, and carry on in sports. The person I am today.”
That person wrestles Saturday at 160-pounds in the Region V tournament.
The Ketchikan Kings will be the favorite with Marcus Martin ranked 5th in the state at 113-pounds, Isaac Lontz ranked 6th at 126, Logan Collins third at 138, Joe Chadwell sixth at 145, and Cody Ring 5th at 285.
At 160-pounds is Kayhi’s Craig Deboer, the state’s 4th best mat thrower.
Deboer and Nichols have wrestled only twice, two weeks ago at the Kings senior night.
“I lost both times,” Nichols said. “But losing to him showed me what I have to do to improve myself. Going three rounds with somebody teaches you what you need to fix. I do go out there with a plan but a lot depends on what the other person gives me as well. I just have to go out and try my best.”
Continued Nichols, “I love the physicality of it. It is not wearing spandex and rolling around the mat with a sweaty dude that is not the point of wrestling. The point is getting out on the mat and trying to beat the heck out of your opponent for six minutes. What is not fun about that? The conditioning is harder than any sport, but you are going on trips with your friends, spending time with your team and having the support of your family and teachers like Lehnhart and Alsup, friends like JD and David (Dumesnil), and so many people too numerous to list... all of that is why I like wrestling. You don’t have to know about wrestling to cheer for us and it means a lot.”
On Saturday fans will cheer for JDHS and TMHS, and even Kayhi.
Whether the cheer is for John Nichols or for John McDonald, the kid who is the Crimson Bears’ lone senior on the roster has already won the important matches in his life.
The rest is just medals.
The Region V Wrestling Tournament begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with finals at 4 p.m., at the JDHS main gym.
Following are the 4A wrestlers competing -
98-pounds: Trevor Wutzke (KTN),
106-pounds: Edwin Meyer (TMHS), Marcus Martin (KTN)
113-pounds: Kadin Hallstrom (KTN),
120-pounds: David Dumesnil (JDHS), Josh Danoa (KTN),
126-pounds: Keenan Spencer (KTN), Ben Kacenas (KTN),
132-pounds: Isaac Lontz (KTN), Kyle Schnur (KTN),
138-pounds: Alex Muir (JDHS), Brandon Aguilar (TMHS), Logan Collins (KTN), Hitsati Hudson (KTN), Mikhail Bolshakoff (KTN), Ian Winter (KTN),
145-pounds: Riley Moser (JDHS), Stetson Durand (JDHS), Dylan Taylor (TMHS), Wesley Brinkerhoff (TMHS), Austin Drueckhammer (TMHS), Joe Chadwell (KTN), Bryce May (KTN),
152-pounds: Austin Gonzolas (JDHS), Malik Brown (JDHS), Brylie Yadao (TMHS), Dante Taylor (TMHS), Tyler Cole (TMHS), Dalton Spear (KTN),
160-pounds: John Nichols (JDHS), Taylor Sutak (JDHS), Blake Phillips (TMHS), William Bear-Clark (TMHS), Craig DeBoer (KTN), Davon Wake (KTN),
170-pounds: Nate Fousel (KTN), Robert Williams (KTN),
182-pounds: JD Hudson (JDHS), Lianno Vejar (TMHS), Kohl Hallmann (KTN),
195-pounds: Jayson Frizzell (KTN),
220-pounds: Tulensa Timothy (JDHS), Caleb Ford (KTN),
285-pounds: Rick Johnson (TMHS), Cody Ring (KTN),
“Regions are always exciting,” Ketchikan coach Bill McLaughlin said in an email. “Juneau and Thunder Mountain are doing all the right things to build crowds and their programs. I am pretty excited about this tournament. They both have a lot of tough kids. I really like what they are doing and building right now. Some of the names that stand out are Dumesnil, Moser, Hudson, Meyer and Nichols.”
Ketchikan has won the past four regional titles. The Kings won last year’s title with 187 points — 100 more than the Falcons (87), and more than five times ahead of the Crimson Bears (36). When the three schools met this year for a final tune-up Jan. 12, Kayhi combined to beat the Juneau programs 153-6. Thirteen of the 28 bouts were forfeits in the Kings’ favor. When Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain wrestled last week, 10 of the 15 bouts were forfeits, including five double forfeits — when neither team had a wrestler.
(note: The annual Coach Harben Invitational middle school wrestling tournament will be held Feb. 8-9 at FD).