By: Scott Hunt
Fifty pounds heavier than when he first stepped on a mat as a 145-pound freshman at Mississinewa, Kyler Funk finished his career as the most decorated Indian wrestler of all time and one of Grant County’s best ever.
Funk qualified for semistate that first year then as a sophomore became just the second Ole Miss wrestler ever to earn a trip to state. Funk jumped up to the 182-pound class where he won his first sectional championship before finishing third at regional and fourth at semistate to punch a ticket to the state finals. Funk was only the second wrestler ever from Mississinewa to earn a state finals trip, joining Bob Stone, who qualified in 1974 at 177 pounds.
As a junior, Funk won 33 matches, but had his season end in disappointment. He dropped highly competitive matches to Oak Hill’s Bradley Rosman in the 182-pound championship of both sectional and regional, then lost his second-round match at semistate to fall just short of returning to state.
His first three years were only a prelude to Funk’s senior campaign. He worked his way into the 195-pound division and lost just twice during the regular season, both times to eventual state champion Silas Allred of Shenandoah.
Funk’s historical tournament trail in 2020 began with his second sectional title. He then went on to win the second regional championship in Ole Miss wrestling history, where he again matched Stone’s accomplishment from 1974, before the IHSAA had implemented a semistate tourney.
Over the final two weeks of his senior season, Funk set precedent in Mississinewa wrestling and athletic history. He became the first Ole Miss athlete, team or individual, to ever be crowned a semistate champion, a satisfying achievement for sure, but not his ultimate goal.
“State my senior year, my goal was to get a medal around my neck,” Funk said Thursday evening. “And it happened.”
Indeed. Funk took to the mat in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday, Feb. 21 and earned a 9-4 win over Richard Clevenger from New Palestine guaranteeing his, and Mississinewa’s, first state hardware in the sport of wrestling.
Ultimately, Funk would lose two closely contested matches on Saturday at state, but his career ended with a 7-5 win over Bellmont’s Caleb Friedt and a seventh-place finish which earned him that medal and coveted spot on the podium among the state’s best. He finished the season with Central Indiana Conference and Grant Four titles along with a 43-4 record.
Funk’s historic 2020 season also has earned him the Chronicle-Tribune’s selection as Grant County’s top winter athlete.
“I was really thankful to be able to do that with my family, my dad, his last time representing Mississinewa High School,” Funk said. “It was a good day. I’ve got to thank (assistant) coach King, Noah King. He did a lot for me. He pushed me every day. In the (wrestling) room. I didn’t really have anybody besides him to do that. Those two were the biggest two and why I got my medal around my neck.”
Kyler referenced being able to share his state finals achievement with his dad, Curt Funk, who just a couple days prior to the finals had resigned his position as teacher, football and wrestling coach at Ole Miss to become the head football coach at Fishers. Having his dad in his corner only added to Kyler Funk’s favorite career moments as a wrestler.
“I have two. My sophomore year I made it to state. I was looking at my draw and I was like I can do this,” he said, recalling his first trip to state which resulted in an opening-round loss. “I wanted to be the first state qualifier from Mississinewa since 1974. I thought that would be pretty cool to do that.
“The second one was winning semistate and winning my Friday match at state,” Funk continued. “I went into my Friday match at state knowing not a lot of kids from (the area) have won a state medal, except for (2019 Mississinewa grad) Brennan Butche and he has three (in cross country). Standing on the podium and I have a state medal now, I’ll never forget that.”
In the immediate aftermath of his two losses at the state finals – a 6-3 decision to Culver Academy’s Eli Pack and 3-1 decision to McKinley Kemper from Evansville Central – Funk was obviously disappointed. Wrestlers at the state championship are all fairly evenly matched so the margin between winning and losing is relatively small in most instances. “You look at me and the kid who got fourth in the state (Pack), we had neck and neck match,” Funk said. “Any given day he can beat me or any given day I could beat him. All of us, with the right draw, we could have placed from second to eighth in my opinion, but none of us were beating Silas Allred. He is just a freak of nature and none of us could beat him.”
Funk had more history with Allred than just the two regular season meetings. Allred lost just two matches in high school and none through junior and senior seasons on the way to winning the past two 195-pound state championships. He and Funk were often sparring partners in practice sessions as part of the same wrestling club based out of Indianapolis.
Through their mat time Funk and Allred, who will wrestle at Nebraska, became good friends.
“He’s my partner in the offseason,” Funk said of Allred. “Every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday dad would drive me to Lawrence North (for practice) and Silas was the closest one to my weight. He’d obviously destroy me. It is what it is, but he made me better. … He’s not only a great wrestler, he’s just a great kid. I like him a lot.
“When he saw we were in the same bracket (at state), he said I hope we meet each other in the semis, I think you can do it,” Funk added. “He’s always had faith in me and always been a good motivator for other kids too.”
Though he generated interest from colleges for both football and wrestling, Funk’s plans for the near future will be without organized sports. The decision wasn’t an easy one for him to make, but it was made with maturity and wisdom.
“I’m going into an apprenticeship in Noblesville and learn how to be sprinkling and pipe fitter,” he shared. “I would love to play college football and wrestle but school really isn’t my thing and I don’t feel like being in debt that much the rest of my life.”
For now, Funk is finishing up his senior year through eLearning and trying to finalize some summer plans for a senior celebration with friends and former teammates.
“I work with Jaheim Johnson and Cade Campbell and we just talked about it today,” Funk said of the planning. “Sometime in July we’re all going to go to King’s Island, basically all the seniors on the football team. We’re going to go to King’s Island and have a good time. After that we’ll go off on our own.”