By JEREMY HINES
It would be hard to find anyone as similar as a pair of Evansville Central seniors. They have so much in common that they even share a first name.
The duo are both excellent students. They are wrestling practice partners. They are both looking to punch their ticket to state for the first time. Both of their dads are wrestling coaches. And, coincidentally, they are both named Luke.
Luke Robards and Luke Kemper have been captains of the Bear wrestling team for three seasons. Robards is 29-2 this season and is currently ranked No. 12 at 145 pounds. Kemper is 28-2 and is ranked No. 5 at 160 pounds.
“The team refers to Luke Kemper as Luke and Luke Robards as Robards,” Evansville Central head coach Brandon Robards (Luke’s dad) said. “It’s Luke, and it’s Robards. But it got a little more confusing this year because my younger sound Beau is on the team too. We told him, dude, you’re Beau, not Robards.”
The two have been practice partners since elementary school. It’s a relationship that has helped the grapplers tremendously.
“They have been practice partners since fourth grade,” Robards said. “They battle every day in practice. They push each other to be their best and they are also each other’s biggest fans. It’s been fun to see them really beat up on each other in the room and then be each other’s biggest cheerleader in the matches.”
The Lukes are similar in many things, but their wrestling styles are quite different.
“Robards wrestles like a little fly,” Kemper said. “I don’t mean that in a mean way. He just buzzes around from side to side and then as quick as he can he gets a leg and he’s driving you to the mat.”
Kemper has a more direct style of attack.
“He’s the polar opposite of me,” the younger Robards said. “He moves forward all the time with his hands up. It’s like wrestling a complete opposite of my style.”
According to coach Robards, the two have different mentalities as well.
“Luke Robards is really focused,” the coach said. “He can be intense in the wrestling room. Luke Kemper is pretty layed back. He’s very coachable and he’s a lot of fun to have in the room.”
Kemper’s dad, Jason, is one of the assistant coaches on the squad. Jason went to state as a wrestler and his other sons, Matt and Isaiah were also state qualifiers.
“Winning a state title has always been my goal,” Kemper said. “Both of my brothers and my dad went to state. I would sit in my room and imagine myself winning a title.”
Kemper had a setback his sophomore year. After just a few matches that season, he tore his ACL. He tried to wrestle through the pain for the next few meets, but soon realized he needed to take time to recover. He didn’t wrestle again that season.
“The recovery was long and rough,” Kemper said. “There was a lot of food involved. I got up to about 185 pounds and that doesn’t bode well on a 5-7 guy.”
Now the two wrestlers have their sites set on making the state tournament. When asked how it would feel if one punched their ticket to state but the other didn’t.
“It would be heartbreaking if one of us made it and the other didn’t,” Luke Robards said. “We have been in this together since elementary. We want to finish this together.”
As far as coaching their sons, or being coached by their dads go – the system they have in place has worked out well for all of them.
“It’s been fun coaching my sons,” coach Robards said. “It’s had its challenges. It’s not easy coaching your kids. Jason and I balance it well. We do a good job of knowing when to step in and coach the other guy’s kid. It’s a good balance.”
Luke Robards agrees.
“It’s an interesting dynamic, that’s for sure,” Luke Robards said. “They have been around us our whole lives. They know how we operate, and they get us. They know where we need to improve. And, when we go home, they know when to still talk with us about things or when to back off.”
Both grapplers are looking to wrestle in college. They aren’t sure where they want to go yet. Robards wants to study pre-law and Kemper wants to go into exercise science. They know there may come a time in the future where they won’t be wrestling with each other.
“It’s a unique situation because we’ve pushed each other pretty hard since we were babies,” Luke Robards said. “It will be weird, for sure, not having each other as partners in college. I’ll miss him. But, I’m sure we will still wrestle each other in the offseason and still push each other to get better.”