Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


NJCAA award
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Second wrestling photo
First team photo
Second team photo

SMC Wrestling Makes NJCAA Top 10 for Academics

Published on June 26, 2024 - 11 a.m.

Southwestern Michigan College’s wrestling team has found success in the classroom as well as on the mat.

Head Coach Todd Hesson’s Roadrunners received ninth in the National Wrestling Coaches Association 2023-24 NJCAA Scholar All-American Team.

SMC notched a 3.3 team GPA. Pacing the Top 10 was Pratt, Kan., Community College.

Shane Edwards committed to the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., to study business.

Dowagiac’s Jordan Simpson is headed to the University of Olivet, where 2023 cross-country alumnus Ben Gillesby of Cassopolis transferred.

“I was happy to get a team award,” Hesson said. “When I talk to kids, the number-one thing is education. I’m competitive and want to win like anyone else. Most kids don’t want to hear it, but their parents do, and we graduated 19.”

Previously, five individuals were announced as National Wrestling Coaches Associations NJCAA Scholar All-Americans — Nathan Andrina, Hector Garcia, MCCAA Wrestler of the Year Hunter Heath, Colby Klinger and Vinny Patierno.

After a 30-year hiatus, SMC Wrestling returned to NJCAA action in October 2022.

In their first year back, with all freshmen, the Roadrunners went 5-0, won the MCCAA Duals Meet, captured the first MCCAA conference championship in school history, finished third in the Great Lakes District Meet and qualified nine wrestlers for the NJCAA National Championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Hesson won MCCAA Coach of the Year.

In 2023-2024, the Roadrunners again went undefeated in the MCCAA Duals Meet, earned the back-to-back MCCAA conference championship, were Great Lakes District runners-up and qualified the maximum 10 wrestlers for the national meet.

SMC finished 22nd overall at the 2024 NCJAA Nationals with 39.5 points and 17th in Division I.

Coloma sophomore Caeleb Ishmael was named an NJCAA All-American. He signed with Montana State-North to study electrical engineering while continuing to wrestle.

“It really does take a village,” Hesson said, from support from the administration and athletic department to Kelsey Barton as an academic advisor who coordinates athletics.

“She’s huge, constantly contacting me,” he said. “She’s been incredible. Another one who does an amazing job is Emily St. Germain,” tutoring coordinator at the Carole A. Tate Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) in Fred L. Mathews Library.

“Different voices are helpful because after a while, kids tend to tune you out,” Hesson said. “We talk about going to class, putting your phone away, sitting in the first couple of rows, putting your hoodie down, turning in your homework and being on time. You’ll get a C, and if you want more than that, you’ll have to do more. Ninety percent of life is showing up every day, communicating and the other 10 percent is following directions. Punctuality is a life skill.”

Hesson, who wrestled for Hall of Fame Coach James Judd from 1983-85, expects to have about 30 wrestlers in the upcoming third season and two home meets.

“We’ve had a wrestler from Texas and one from Florida, but most are from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. I literally start recruiting in Dowagiac and work my way out.”

When Hesson looks beyond conference foes such as Muskegon Community College, his gaze falls on twin Illinois rivals, Harper College in Palantine and perennial powerhouse Triton College in River Grove, which bested the runner-up Roadrunners at districts.

“We have an open door,” Hesson said. “We’ll have a combination of solid wrestlers and those who show up every day and work hard just because they want to be part of it, and I’m all for that.”

With just two years to develop his young men, “We’ve started an ‘open mat’ on Wednesday nights that combines current college wrestlers, outgoing college wrestlers and incoming college wrestlers from 5:30 to 6:30 or 7.

Women join the mix in Fall 2025. Only 22 NJCAA schools offer women’s wrestling. SMC will be first in Michigan to offer this increasingly popular sport.