By JEREMY HINES
Burk Van Horn remembers being with his dad and brothers driving down the highway on their way to Nebraska, and seeing several cars trying to get their attention. Turns out, Van Horn had accidentally left the gates open on the familyâ€™s cattle trailer they were hauling, and some of the cattle was walking toward the opening.
â€œThe cows were just about to jump out when we stopped,â€ Van Horn said. â€œWe had stopped to eat and I checked on the cattle, but forgot to close the gates.â€
Van Horn is a little more careful these days, both with cattle and on the wrestling mat. Heâ€™s currently ranked No. 2 at 160 pounds. He started the season out ranked No. 1 at 170 pounds and later moved to 160 and was given the top ranking there, before the latest polls had Evansville Mater Deiâ€™s Joe Lee moving up to 160 and claiming the top spot.
The Franklin Community senior has had a stellar career in high school, but it wasnâ€™t until last season that he really stepped up his game. As a freshman Van Horn advanced to semistate. As a sophomore he was defeated in the first round of regional. But, as a junior, he not only made it to the state tournament â€“ he wrestled his way under the lights at Bankerâ€™s Life Fieldhouse. Van Horn lost a 3-0 heartbreaker in the state finals match to two-time champ Jacob Covaciu.
â€œMy sophomore year I had a bad match at regionals,â€ Van Horn said. â€œBut that helped me to become better and motivate myself more. I started to break down matches more. That loss was a setback, but it made me want to go further.
â€œThen, last year when I saw my draw at state, I really felt like I could get under the lights. Just getting there wasnâ€™t my goal. I wanted to win, not get second.â€
Franklin coach Bob Hasseman said losing in regional as a sophomore was a turning point in Van Hornâ€™s career.
â€œIt was a crappy match and things happened that was a little out of his control with the officiating,â€ Hasseman said. â€œAt that time, when something didnâ€™t go his way, Burk could get a little discombobulated. But since that time, and probably because of that time, he has learned to keep on rolling and to take the good with the bad. Heâ€™s going to make mistakes. Heâ€™s going to get bad calls. Thatâ€™s wrestling. But he has to stay focused and keep wrestling and not make a grave error when heâ€™s frustrated.â€
Van Horn has mixed emotions about the rankings this year. He likes the fact that he was ranked No. 1 at two different classes. He likes that he has a target on his back and a lot of guys are trying to knock him off. But he doesnâ€™t like when kids get intimidated just because of his ranking.
â€œIâ€™ve still got a lot of room to improve before I can become a state champ,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m just another kid out there wrestling. There are sometimes I wish I wasnâ€™t ranked because a lot of kids wonâ€™t wrestle me. Or, if they do wrestle, some of them just roll to their backs like little girls instead of at least putting up a fight. But it is fun walking onto the mat and knowing that youâ€™re the man.â€
Van Horn has made weight once at 160, but plans to go back to 170. At this point, heâ€™s not sure where he will wrestle in the tournament.
â€œIâ€™m going to do whatever is best for the team,â€ he said.
Burk started wrestling about the time he learned to walk. He has two older brothers that were state qualifiers.
â€œBurk is quite a bit bigger than his brothers were,â€ Franklin coach Bob Hasseman said. â€œHeâ€™s got the size and heâ€™s very talented. His whole family seems to be just genetically strong. He has good hips and is very rarely out of position on the mat. His body build also helps him tremendously.â€
Burk is the epitome of being country strong. His daily routine of wrestling and then going home and working with the cattle and his show pigs has helped him develop a habit of hard working.
â€œI show pigs and cattle year around,â€ Burk said. â€œItâ€™s a lot of hard work. If you want to win in the show ring, or in wrestling, you have to be willing to put in the hard work.â€
Van Horn is hoping all his hard work produces an end result of a state championship this season.