BOYCEVILLE — One match into his wrestling career, five-year-old Brock Schlough clung to his father’s leg begging to quit.
His uncle, Randy Stokke, had convinced Brock’s parents to let Brock wrestle, but now, his brief career appeared to be coming to a rapid end.
Just days earlier, Brock’s mother, Julie Schlough, had scoffed at the idea of letting her son wrestle. The sport seemed too dangerous and unnecessary for her son, but after some convincing she let up, and now, with her son begging to quit, she flipped, insisting he couldn’t give up.
Reluctantly, Brock returned to the mat. Against a better opponent, maybe this story ends differently. Maybe Brock loses again, and Wisconsin is deprived of one of its all-time greatest wrestlers, but that’s not how this story ends. Instead, Brock reigned supreme, and when the tournament came to a close, he received a medal, the first of many.
Thirteen years later, Brock is culminating his senior year at Boyceville as a four-time WIAA state wrestling champion and the Leader-Telegram’s 2018-19 all-area wrestler of the year.
Being a four-time state champion isn’t easy. Of course, defeating the state’s best wrestlers is tough, but not defeating yourself is even harder.
“You win a state title as a freshman and sometimes those things can get to your head,” Boyceville wrestling coach Jamie Olson said. “They say (sophomore year) is the toughest time to win state, … because you think you’re good enough to win it now, but some kids don’t work that hard for the next one.”
Instead of slowing down, Olson said that Brock worked even harder. He said Brock would come in every morning during wrestling season at 6 a.m. to work on his craft. Sometimes, he’d be in the gym two or three times a day trying to get better.
“It was pretty intense,” Brock said. “You can’t really half-heartedly do anything, you can’t just go through the motions, you have to do it 100 percent all the time.”
With one championship under his belt, the pressure to repeat began to mount.
“His sophomore year was hard,” Julie said. “There was so much expectation put on him.”
That season Brock decided to make an unprecedented jump in weight class. After wrestling his freshman year at 138 pounds, Brock began power lifting and moved up three weight classes to 160 pounds.
Of the 17 four-time state wrestling champions, nobody other than Brock has won a title over 152 pounds. His 22-pound jump is the largest one-year change by anyone in this elite group.
“That is something kids don’t do,” Olson said. “It was kind of unheard of.”
He went 43-1 that season, culminating in a 5-2 decision victory over Riverdale senior Bradon Roen in the state finals.
For his junior year, Brock cut back down to 152. This time, he went undefeated all year and, once again, captured a state championship by pinning Cadott’s Brady Spaeth.
With three titles to his name, the pressure continued to grow.
“Now all of a sudden you’re expected to do it,” long-time family friend and wrestling coach Doug Palmer said.
The success meant Brock had a target on his back, Palmer said. Every time he stepped onto the mat his opponents were looking to dethrone the king.
“He carried a lot of pressure,” Julie said. “That’s all everybody has talked about since he won his freshman year and it’s definitely been something that has weighed on him.”
In his final high school fight, Brock beat Princeton’s Guenther Hebbe 11-3 to complete a perfect 2018-19 season.
“I’m glad he can be happy again,” Julie said while fighting back tears. “I’m happy that he won, but it came with a lot of stress and a lot of pressure and I don’t think a lot of people realize that being in that situation gets stale.
“We tried not talking about it when he was home, but it gets to a point where everybody watches everything you do whether you make a mistake or don’t make a mistake.”
The chase for four-straight state championships has been exhausting.
“You’re breaking yourself down every day,” Brock said. “I guess I’m just proud that I went through it all, it’s an adventure really.”
It took sacrifices from everyone in the family. Brock said pursuing his dream meant missing ice fishing and hunting with his friends and family. It meant no sleep-ins and no junk food for months at a time. For his family, vacations often were cut short or almost non-existent and thousands of dollars were spent so that Brock could have the proper support. The biggest expenses, however, might have been the emotional toll.
“A lot of people talk to me about how they’re sad that their kids don’t win as a freshman, but it comes with a price,” Julie said. “He’s carried the weight of wanting to do this for his school and for his family and for his community. He’s felt that.”
Brock didn’t show much emotion talking about his journey. When asked about becoming a four-time state champion, he said it was “nice to have that accomplished.”
Maybe the weight he’s carried has taken a toll or maybe he’s always been this way, a humble, quiet boy, who never gets too cocky.
“To be a four-timer and act like he does is really kind of cool,” Olson said. “He walks around school today that way the same way he did the first time he came here as a freshman.”
Next year Brock is heading to St. Cloud State, where he’ll wrestle for the country’s top Division II wrestling program. The Huskies have won consecutive Division II wrestling championships and taken the title in four of the last five years.
What they’re getting in Brock is one of Wisconsin’s greatest ever.
“I think he stacks right up there with… the 16 other four-timers,” Olson said. “I think he has everything they had and maybe more than some of them.”