By JEREMY HINES
No matter what happens in the next couple of weeks, Brandon and Donnie Feeler are going to end a journey the same way they started it – together.
Donnie Feeler is a senior 106-pounder from Crawford County. Brandon is his father and the only coach he has ever had.
“Our situation is a little unique,” Brandon said. “I’ve coached him since he was five years old. We’ve been on this journey for many, many years. It means a lot to both of us, to say the least.”
Brandon still remembers the day Donnie came home from school, waving a flyer about wrestling around and begging to be able to be part of it.
“Donnie was a big fan of WWF wrestling back then,” Brandon said. “He would constantly watch it on TV. At the time we lived in Scottsburg and he brought home this flyer about wrestling – thinking it was going to be jumping off the ropes like they did in WWF. I explained to him what it was, and he was still really eager to go.”
So, Donnie joined wrestling and Brandon started coaching the sport. Brandon had a background in grappling, but he was learning wrestling at the same time he was teaching it to Donnie.
The two dived headfirst into the sport. Brandon would drive Donnie to tournaments across the country. They would have hours together in the car, in the hotels and in the restaurants. They formed a strong bond through the sport.
“Me and my dad, we’ve had our differences,” Donnie said. “But the sport has really grown us closer. It’s not just me out there. It’s him too. We go through the same emotion and the same stress. It’s not easy being a coach of a son. There are times when I just don’t want to train. But it’s good to have a coach that keeps after me and keeps me going.”
Last year Donnie did something that no other kid in the history of his school has accomplished. He qualified for the state tournament.
“There were a lot of emotions when he won his ticket round match,” Brandon said. “He punched his ticket. That was just a real proud moment.”
Qualifying for state put a new fire in Donnie. He didn’t win his Friday night match, but he started working harder than ever before. He and his dad went to tournament after tournament last summer. They hit the mat hard and pushed like never before. The problem was all that wrestling started to burn Donnie out. He questioned whether he wanted to go on.
“I was just burnt out,” Donnie said. “I was exhausted from the off-season wrestling. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Qualifying for state also came with some high expectations for Donnie. His focus seemed to change, according to his dad.
“To some degree he was wrestling for all the wrong reasons,” Brandon said. “He was trying to be the best wrestler for an audience, not for himself. He contemplated whether he even wanted to wrestle his senior year. He did some soul searching and came back with some confidence. He was ready to unlock his potential.”
Donnie said that renewed vigor came from having some talks with his dad.
“That relationship with my father, and just speaking with him and listening to what he had to say – that really helped me regain my focus,” Donnie said.
This year Donnie is coming off a regional championship. He is Crawford County’s first regional champion, and now he’s a two-time champ. He’s ranked No. 12 at 106 pounds and currently has an unblemished 20-0 record. His goal ultimate goal is to be his school’s first-ever state placer in wrestling.
Crawford County has just a handful of wrestlers on the team. In practice Donnie’s only choice is to go up against guys weighing 120-152. But that’s OK. He embraces the David vs. Goliath philosophy. He likes being the underdog. He likes coming from a small school and wrestling the big programs. He likes being counted out.
“I want to win it all,” Feeler said. “But no matter what happens I’m going to give it my all. If all else fails, we gave it a good run and had a fun four years.”
For Brandon, the next few weeks will mark the end of a journey.
“We started his career together and we’re going to finish it together,” Brandon said. “It’s going to be an emotional time, for sure. But we’ve had a heck of a ride.”