BY DAN STICKRADT
HARTLAND — Todd Cheney can remember his first victory as Hartland’s wrestling coach.
“It was funny. We left a tournament thinking we had finished second,” said Cheney. “We got a call the next day explaining that they made mistake with the scoring and we actually won.”
Hartland won the Marine City Invitational, as it turned out, at the beginning of the 1992-93 wrestling season. That was when Cheney was a rookie coach and still a student at Eastern Michigan University.
Before Cheney’s arrival, Hartland had very little history in wrestling. And even though there has been many trials for Cheney and those involved in Hartland’s program over the past quarter century, it all paid off last February when the Eagles captured their first Division 1 state championship in school history.
“I guess you can never predict the future,” said Cheney, a 1990 Hartland grad. “I would have never dreamed that we would be where we’re at today when I took over nearly 25 years ago. Next season will be my 25th season at Hartland — can you believe it?”
Cheney has been selected as the 2015-16 High School Sports Scene Magazine All-Sport Male Coach of the Year for not only the stellar season his troops enjoyed, but for the steady climb to the top. Hartland has become a model of consistency even though they have only one state title in wrestling over the years.
“I think there truly is a sense of community in Hartland. People really do back you,” said Cheney, who has a stellar 667-97-2 career coaching record at Hartland. “The support we have, not only in wrestling, but in sports in general is amazing.”
Since its first tournament victory until now, Hartland has enjoyed tremendous success on the wrestling mats. Going from a traditional cellar dweller into one of the state’s dominant programs took community involvement and support, high-level coaching — and a ton of blood, sweat and tears along the way by hundreds.
Along with 20 conference or division titles, Hartland has won districts in 20 out of the past 21 years. The only season in that span the Eagles did not advance was 2000, where they let a large lead against Oxford slip away in a district final.
Hartland has also won 17 regional titles, including 15 straight, and been to at least the Final Four 12 times. The Eagles finished as the state runner-up in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2015 and two of those state runner-up showings saw the Eagles lose by one point or one match.
“I think (winning in 2016) was rewarding because we had come close so many times before,” reminded Cheney, who also credited a long list of assistant, middle school and youth coaches in the Hartland area for the program’s long-term success.
“You know we’ve had some of our athletes go into restaurants and when people see they are wearing Harltand wrestling (gear), people will pick up the tab,” explained Cheney. “It’s a great community — a strong sense of community when people know who you are and recognize what you’ve accomplished. There’s no place I’d rather coach.”