Sibling Rivalry

To say wrestling runs in the Stortenbecker family is perhaps an understatement.

Since 2008, all the four sons of the Leroy and Kelly Stortenbecker – Royce, Lane, Luke and Ryan – have donned the green and white headgear and singlet for East Mills.

Last Friday, Ryan, the youngest of the bunch, and currently the No. 3 ranked 145-pounder in the state, put the brothers Stortenbecker in rare territory. Ryan picked up his 34th victory of the season with a pin of Mason Allen of Central Decatur at the John J. Harris Invitational in Corning.

The win also just so happened to be the 500th victory for the quartet of brothers. The oldest brother, Royce, compiled a record of 83-68 from 2008-2011, Lane was 136-47 from 2011-2014 and Luke was 152-43 from 2015-2017. Ryan has notched a record of 131-25 through last weekend’s tournament.

That’s 502 combined wins and an unusual record longtime East Mills wrestling coach Claude Lang was hard pressed to find a comparable for. Former Underwood star Alex Thomsen and his brothers Blake and Carson are likely in the 500-win neighborhood, but Lang could think of no other sibling sets to have achieve a similar mark.

Lang was the first to recognize the impending possibility of the milestone. He was going over records in the preseason last fall when it occurred to him Ryan, barring injury, was on track to surpass 100 wins of his own this season.

“I knew Royce had about 80 wins and Lane and Luke were both over 100 so I added them up and the number was like 470,” Lang said. “It was clear if Ryan keeps going and he doesn’t get hurt they’re going to get to 500 wins.

“500 wins. That’s pretty big. To have four kids in the same family do that, it’s pretty incredible.”

It came as a surprise to Ryan Stortenbecker as well.

“Honestly, I had no idea we were close to that number until Coach mentioned it to me two weeks ago,” said Ryan, who finished third at the John J. Harris Invitational this weekend. “He told me if I had this many more wins, we’d have 500. I didn’t really believe him.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it. You hear about kids getting 150 wins individually but never really brothers getting 500 wins. I think it’s pretty cool.”

The Stortenbecker’s didn’t start out as a wrestling family. Dad Leroy was a state track qualifier and a basketball and football player for Malvern in the early 80s when the school didn’t offer wrestling. Mom, a 1985 Glenwood graduate, played golf and basketball for the Rams.

Royce, the oldest brother, didn’t take up the sport until junior high. His competing encouraged the other brothers to step on the mat.

“They became a wrestling family,” Lang said.

The family eventually installed a wrestling mat in the garage for the boys to wrestle away their energy or settle grievances.

“We were always on there going at it,” said Ryan. “I guess that was our form of love. Tough love. We settled stuff with wrestling.”

Ryan said his family has always been a competitive bunch in everything from sports to board games to video games. He started wrestling when he was 4 years old.

“Luke was going already so my mom just brought me along and I started when they let me,” Ryan said. “They (brothers) used to beat up on me pretty good, that’s why I’m probably the toughest of the four. They might tell you different.”

Ryan also feels like he’s the most skilled of the bunch. Again, his brothers might tell you different. But he had some great teachers in addition to Lang.

“We all wrestled at different weights but honestly, I’d say I have the most technique. My move variety is a lot more. But they’ve been a huge part of my development and achievements in high school wrestling. They’d give me tips and remind me of things.”

The matches with his brothers on the mat may have ended but that doesn’t mean they don’t still grapple on occasion. The venue is often just the carpet of their parents’ or grandma’s living room.

All but Royce came up wrestling in the East Mills Area Youth wrestling program as youngsters. Lang has coached all four since the program’s inception in 2008. He referred to the brothers as “run through a brick wall” type kids.

“They have a tenacity. Whatever task is put in front of them, they are going to put every effort they need to get past it. The task maybe not always be reasonable to get but they’re going to try their hardest to get there.”

Each of the brothers had a similar profile on the matt: in that 132 to 152 pound weight class, with rangy builds and a quick twitchiness. But what they share the most is also what them sets them apart from many of their opponents.

“Their competitiveness is a big part of it,” Lang said. “And they’re tough. They have an amazing commitment level. I think I can count on one had the number of practices they miss combined in their high school careers. They just never missed practice. They all played football. They all ran track.”

Lang declined to pick which brother was the best grappler – and doubted he could even make that judgment.

“It’s hard,” he said. “With me and my brothers, my youngest brother had the most wins because we brought out the best in him by tormenting him and making him tougher. The older the kids make the younger kids tougher. Wrestling-wise,

Luke and Ryan are probably the top two. They had more wins but then they had more experience coming into high school.”

Ryan is currently 35-1 on the season and has his sights set on medaling at next month’s state tournament.

“He’s had some great matches against some state qualifier-type kids,” Lang said. “He has to get better every time he gets on the mat, and he knows that. He’s putting the time in during practice. He has certain expectations he needs to fulfill each match to get better.

Ryan said he speaks for his brother when he talks about how lucky he feels to have had Lang as his coach, knowing the same coach in the wrestling room every day is the same his brothers had.

“He was able to stick it out for so long and stay at East Mills for such a long time to get through all of us.”

Ryan is unlikely to catch his brother Luke’s 152 career wins even with the postseason. But he does have a chance to be the Stortenbecker’s first state medal winner. He was a state qualifier a year ago.

Royce just missed being the Wolverines’ first state qualifier in 2011 when he lost a wrestle back in districts. Luke was a two-time state qualifier.

Ryan, of course, loves the one-on-one, him against a single opponent competitiveness of the sport. But he also has something else driving him.

“Having three older brothers who did it, I kind of want to beat their records,” he said. “It’s a competitiveness between the family. Wrestling doesn’t get a lot of attention at our school so part of it is the grind for these three or four months where you focus and watch what you eat and leave the wrestling room drenched in sweat every night.”

He stated his goals to his brothers early. And they haven’t changed.

“I told them as a freshman I wanted to place at state,” he said. “And they shook their heads that I couldn’t do it. And I think that’s motivated me. I want to end my season on that podium.”


The Opinion-Tribune

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