From the eighth to eleventh centuries, Vikings traveled eastward to overpower and conquer far away lands. How fitting for the Harsh family, who traveled nearly seven hours east from Scottsbluff to wrestle in the Cornhusker State Games at a high school gym just outside of Lincoln — home of the Waverly Vikings.
Jon Harsh staked claim to Waverly for his sixth trip to the State Games with his wife and four kids, all wrestlers. Even his eight-year-old daughter, Sabrina. His sons Sebastian, Salem and Sabian, 11, 13 and 16, respectively, all compete. So did dad.
“I’m 34 years old man,” Jon Harsh said. “I have to wrestle 18-year-old kids. I don’t do good, but (my kids) like watching me get my butt smeared across the mat after being rough on them.”
Jon sticks out with his shaved head and dozen or so black tattoos spread across his body. The few instructional barks he gives during his kids’ matches are almost always drowned out by the other coaches who are more persistent and loud.
Jon said he didn’t push wrestling onto his kids. His oldest son brought home a school wrestling info packet when he was six, and the other Harsh kids followed suit. Since that time in the Harsh house, not a week goes by without four athletic spirits clashing. The most recent was last week, resulting in a broken vase in the kitchen.
“Someone probably grabbed someone from behind,” Jon said. “Then the coach became the middle turnbuckle. Somebody comes up and throws a sleeper on another one from the back and it’s on.”
The competitive nature produced success for the Harsh children, who have filled a trophy case with 311 medals and 68 trophies. The hardware, Jon said, is just a byproduct of something bigger.
“I had a bad dad,” Jon said. “I’d rather be a half-assed coach and a better father than mean coach and half a father.”
He lived in four states with separated parents, wrestling in high school in Mitchell. Now he sees families with overweight, coach potato children — some of whom used to wrestle with his boys.
“I want a structured family. My family wasn’t too structured,” Harsh said. “I had to make a choice on what my family was going to be like.”
He chose morals as the cornerstone of competition in his family, with competitions ranging from wrestling to football and dirt biking.
“If you don’t have morals it doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest butt-kicker out there,” Harsh said. “My grandfather was the most important person in my life and he’s the one who taught me about morals.”
After the State Games, Jon and his family will make their annual pilgrimage to Kansas where his grandfather is buried. It’ll round up their traveling time to more than 20 hours — to camp, compete and pay respect.