“You see what I have to deal with?”
Like a father groaning in mock exasperation when his child falls behind, Franklin wrestling coach Bob Hasseman is waiting on boys and girls swimming coach Zach DeWitt, who is a few minutes late for a photo shoot in the school’s wrestling room.
When DeWitt does arrive, he endures a bit more good-natured ribbing from Hasseman before the two get down to business.
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On the surface, the coaches couldn’t appear to be much more different. Hasseman, in his 32nd season, has led the Grizzly Cubs’ wrestling program since before DeWitt was born, and he looks like he’d be more likely to give the young swim coach a wedgie and take his lunch money than offer him advice.
But they’ve formed a bond over DeWitt’s six years at Franklin, and perhaps that shouldn’t be all that surprising after all. Hasseman turned the Grizzly Cubs into a state wrestling power, securing nine top-five team finishes between 1996 and 2014, and DeWitt is starting to do the same with the school’s swimming programs.
While DeWitt regularly seeks advice from Hasseman now about mental preparation and other common threads between the two winter sports, he says he had too much pride to reach out when he first came to Franklin.
Fortunately for him, Hasseman was more than willing to extend his hand first and serve as a mentor.
“I was the same way when I was younger,” Hasseman said. “I had a little success, and I thought I knew some stuff. Then, as I went through the course of things, I found out I didn’t know very much.
“I really think the hardest thing for young coaches is to bury your ego and learn.”
Hasseman added that evolution is necessary for any coach who wants to remain on top; as society changes, a coach needs to adapt to the change or risk being left behind. He’s managed to do so over the past three decades, and he sees DeWitt developing the same willingness to do so.
As DeWitt has evolved, his teams have reaped greater rewards. The Franklin girls just finished the best season in program history, placing fourth at the state meet, and the boys, fresh off their first top-10 finish a year ago, are also expected to crack the top five next week.
The swimmers are well on their way to creating the same type of sustained success that Hasseman’s program has enjoyed on the mat. Freshman 120-pounder Tyler Fuqua will continue the Grizzly Cubs’ wrestling tradition when he competes in the state finals this weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
As much as DeWitt respects the accolades racked up by Hasseman, who was named the IHSWCA Coach of the Year in 2014, he has even more admiration for the way in which he’s done it all.
“The guy can form a relationship with anyone,” DeWitt said of Hasseman. “Those boys wrestle for him out of respect, and they absolutely love and adore him. I think that’s something to be admired.
“Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he can chew a guy out or two, but largely his demeanor is one of respect and love and accountability. I think that’s really special.”
Because of the mutual respect between the two, DeWitt didn’t hesitate at all when the opportunity arose for him to briefly hand his team over to Hasseman earlier this season. Before the Mid-State Conference meet in January, the Franklin swimmers went into the wrestling room to lie down on the mats and run through pre-meet visualizations.
Normally, DeWitt guides his own team through that process before big meets, but Hasseman happened to be in the room at the time and offered his services.
It wasn’t the first time — and probably won’t be the last — that DeWitt willingly takes a back seat to his mentor.
“I would love not to live in Bob Hasseman’s shadow,” DeWitt said, “but the truth is, I could definitely become pretty comfortable in a legend’s shadow. That’s fine with me.”