By Juan Fourneau, Hola America
When a student comes from a large family, they quickly learn their activities are not the only important ones in the household. Sometimes, when that child shows a great work ethic and a friendly, polite manner, people notice. Their community doesn’t just root for them, they pitch in to help that young person achieve their dreams. That’s the story of Noah Tapia, who placed second at the Illinois High School wrestling tournament. The senior at Moline High School will finish the season as one of the most decorated grapplers in the program’s history with 108 career pins.
Tapia started wrestling to follow in the footsteps of his older brothers and father, but quickly developed a love and passion for the sport. His father, Tony Tapia, also wrestled for Moline High School in 1996 when Moline won an IHSA Team State title. He developed his work ethic by putting in grueling hours in what is often known as the loneliest of sports. A photo of Noah as a child with Iowa Wrestling Legend Dan Gable was on display at the Moline wrestling banquet held on March 8th.
“That’s who I wanted to be, I wanted to be the next Dan Gable for as long as I can remember. I admired his mindset. He just worked so hard all the time and was so certain about how hard he worked. My uncle and my dad had talked about him, and I read his book in 4th grade.”
Tapia wrestled at 145, one of the most competitive weight divisions in the sport. Some athletes carefully consider weight class to improve their odds, but Tapia made it clear that was not part of his strategy. “We don’t dodge people here in Moline. We wrestle the weight class we feel good at and whoever is there we gotta beat them.” The Moline team was made up of many Hispanic wrestlers including four who made it to sectionals. “We have a lot of Hispanic kids on our team, it’s something some of us can relate to,” said Tapia. “We have a good community on the team.”
Even during the off season Tapia practiced and worked to improve at his sport. “I train at Young Guns Wrestling Club. I have a lot of friends around the area, Gauge Shipp who won a state title, the Smith brothers from Riverdale, Heath, Brock and Blake, a lot of good partners in the off season who are constantly practicing with each other, making each other better.” Noah’s coach at the Young Guns Club, Eric Juergens, was a member of the Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling Team and a two-time National Champion. “Noah has been with us for a long time, training since he was a little kid. He is an athlete willing to practice at anytime, anywhere, go with anyone, in an attempt to get better.”
As he looks back at his four years at Moline High School, Tapia recognizes the strides he’s made in his overall character because of wrestling. “I’m proud of what I’ve done. Moreso, I’m proud of the improvement that I’ve made in my mindset outside of wrestling. I think I’ve improved as a person, and I owe a lot of that to wrestling. I wasn’t a very vocal leader but I knew a lot of the guys were watching me all the time. I knew if I did the right things, everyone else would catch on and also do the right things.“
Juergens can attest to Tapia putting those words into action. “He is still the first one to help someone in the room, to offer a hand cleaning mats after practice, to giving someone a ride home now that he can drive himself.” His high school coach Jacob Ruettiger echoed those words. “His work ethic, his grades, his character as a human being. He’s going to be missed. He leads by example. He’s not going to call anyone out; he’s just going to do it. If you’re not willing to do it or know how to do it, he’s going to show you. And that’s what he’s done the last four years.”
Tapia credits his high school coach for giving him the confidence to compete at such a high level. “I owe him a big thanks because he believed in me way before I believed in myself. My freshman year when I didn’t think I was that good, he was telling me I was the best wrestler in the state.” He is grateful for the help he received from the tight knit wrestling community over the years. “My dad was a coach for me, always being super supportive. Stuart Terronez, he was one of my club coaches in middle school. I owe a bunch to him. He drove me to tournaments, paid for my meals. Same thing with Kevin Brower, he coached me in club and sixth grade. He’s driven me to tournaments, paid for my meals, I owe that guy everything.”
Juergens spoke highly of the community that supported Tapia over the years. “His situation is truly the epitome of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. He had support from his uncle Mike, his high school coach Jake Ruettiger, the now athletic director Todd Thompson, even from parents just in our wrestling club like his close friends the Smiths.” Tapia’s uncle Mike Ortiz, is modest about the help he has provided Tapia. “We’re a wrestling family. We all had to work to do the best we could for him. Seeing the drive and determination he had is why we helped him get to where he wanted to be. My wife made lunches for him since he was a kid heading to tournaments.”
As he heads to Hofstra University in Long Island, New York on a wrestling scholarship, he has fond memories of his four years wrestling at Moline High School. “I’m definitely going to miss the people. We have a good community on our team. I like all the parents, all our coaches. I built great friendships throughout my four years here. There are only two seniors graduating, Rudy Sepeda and me. I’m going to miss them a lot.”
These are some of Noah accomplishments during his high school career:
All-Time Moline School Records
52 Most Wins In A Season.
290 Most Team Points In A Season.
40 Most Pins In A Season.
4X State Qualifier
3X State Finalist.
1X State Champion by the IWCOA Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association*
*Because of the pandemic the IHSA did not have a State Tournament in 2021. The IWCOA put on the State Tournament.