Lisbon (IA) – In the history of Iowa High School wrestling, there has been a total of twenty-seven four-time state champions. The elite club has the opportunity for one more member this winter - Lisbon's Cael Happel. After dominating the 1A state tournament the past three years, and winning titles at 113, 120, and 132, all eyes will be on Happel.
"It's been my goal since 8th grade to be sitting right here. When Carter won it, and I was in 8th grade, I set that goal to be a four-timer. I wanted to do it better than he did, and so far I have in my opinion. I have one more season to prove myself and do it better than he did."
With the season just around the corner the preparation for Happel's last season as a Lisbon Lion, has already begun.
"The last couple weeks I have been wrestling and lifting. Adjusting my diet. Cutting out some junk food. Been getting better sleep at night. Setting a bed time. The little things. Cleaning up my daily habits."
The Happel family is no stranger to having larger than life success on the wrestling mat. Dean Happel, Cael's father, won three state titles while wrestling in a Lisbon singlet in the early 80's. Cael's older brother, Carter, is already in the elite club of four time Iowa state champions. Younger Happel doesn't have to look much farther for advice when it comes to his wrestling.
"My dad gives me a lot of advice and Carter does too but not as much. They know the sport. I take in everything they say and try to be the best that I can be. I want to be coachable."
In a town that breathes wrestling, the resurgence of Lisbon wrestling has not only had an impact on Happel, who quickly points out he can't go out for a run without a honk of a horn or words of encouragement being yelled his way, but has brought the community closer.
"It brought us together. At home meets the gym is full of people excited about Lisbon wrestling. I can't go for a run without someone honking at me or yelling at me to pick it up. It's pretty cool."
While the pursuit of his fourth state title hasn't sunk in, the accomplishments of Lisbon wrestling and those that wear it's singlet clearly has. Upon walking into the halls of Lisbon High School it doesn't take long to see the countless medal winners, team trophies, and the history of a storied program on display.
"You get motivated seeing all the guys that have done it before you on that wall. Guys who have done things after school. It's an honor. A lot of hard work goes into that. It's just a picture on the wall, but there is a lot that goes on to get that picture on the wall. It's motivating and moving to add to that tradition. Lisbon is known for wrestling. How do people know where Lisbon is? You find out when you leave Lisbon. People often ask, 'Where you are from?' You say Lisbon, and their next question is do you wrestle."
Happel is quick to understand the weight that will be on his shoulders as the season grows older, something the younger Happel has already felt during his freshman year.
"At times during my freshman year, there was a lot of pressure. I wish I could change how I handled it at times, but now I just go out and wrestle. I go out to win and try to have fun. If I lose, it's a part of the sport, and I move on."
It won't be long before the Lisbon senior, who will continue his wrestling career at the University of Northern Iowa, will be taking the mat in college. His college recruitment didn't take long, and after one official visit, UNI landed one of the stars of Iowa's High School seniors.
"It felt like home. I took one official visit to Cedar Falls. They have a good wrestling program and I wanted to be a part of that."
Often times there is a pivotal moment in an athlete's career that launches them on the path towards success. In Happel's case, it may just be one simple question.
"Every morning I ask myself 'Who do I want to be?' it's right above my bed, on my ceiling. Who do I want to be and I start from scratch each morning and go out and try to be the best I can be."
With history fast approaching, it may be a coincidence or, some may chalk it up to fate, but it probably won't surprise anyone in the community of Lisbon what class Cael Happel enjoys the most in High School.