By Steve Gunn
FRUITPORT – When a great team suddenly needs a new coach, it helps to find a replacement who knows something about winning.

Kaleb Venama gets up off the Matt as Fruitport’s Crue Cooper reacts. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Whitehall wrestling team found two.
The Vikings, the predominant power in area high school wrestling for the past dozen years, were shaken last spring when longtime coach Cliff Sandee suddenly left the school to become assistant principal at Reeths-Puffer High School.
But Whitehall found two brothers with a great wrestling background to take his place as co-coaches.
They are Collin and Justin Zeerip, who won seven individual state championships between them in their high school days at Hesperia. And they learned to coach from one of the best around – their father, former Hesperia and current Fremont coach Craig Zeerip.
The younger Zeerips are doing just fine keeping the Whitehall program in winning form. That was evident on Saturday, when the Vikings continued their local domination by capturing their 13th straight team championship at the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Wrestling Tournament at Fruitport High School.

Garry Johnson III wraps up Reeths-Puffer’s Thade Radosa. Photo/Leo Valdez

Whitehall finished with 232.5 points, ahead of second-place Reeths-Puffer, which totaled 181.5. Orchard View was third with 93.5 points, followed by Mona Shores (83), Fruitport (80), Ravenna (71), Montague (44.5), Muskegon Catholic (20), Muskegon (8) and Holton (6).
Out of 14 weight classes, the Vikings captured championships in seven, finished second in four, and took fourth in two.
So if anybody expected Whitehall to take a step back after Coach Sandee moved on, they were clearly wrong.
Besides maintaining their domination at the GMAA tournament, they Vikings have won all but two of their dual matches so far this season, and are ranked in the top five in the state in Division 3.
“I had been coaching with my dad at Fremont for the past three years, and a couple people (from Whitehall) reached out, mostly to Justin, and he really wanted me to come on board with him,” said Collin Zeerip, following the GMAA tournament victory. “It seemed like a great opportunity.

Whitehall’s Chris Dowdell battles against Reeths-Puffer’s James Rozycki. Photo/Leo Valdez

“I really wanted to learn as much as I could from my dad, and then it seemed like the right time to go coach with my brother. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do together.
“There was a little bit of pressure, but it’s good pressure. There are certainly high expectations here, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.
“The kids have been great. We’ve been expecting a lot out of them, and working them extremely hard in practice, but they are no-nonsense kids. The people who reached out to us had told us it was a great group, and they have met that expectation.”
While Whitehall has always focused on postseason success at the state level, Zeerip said it was good to maintain the GMAA tournament title, particularly over an up-and-coming opponent like Reeths-Puffer.
“Reeths-Puffer is a very formidable opponent,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Matt Brink) and the job he’s done with the program there. Overall this is a tournament we definitely circle on our calendar. It was great to see our guys wrestle well today.”
Winning individual weight class championships for Whitehall were Aiden Weiler (103), Sam Baustert (112), Max Brown (125), Chris Dowdell (140), Ira Jenkins (152), Trenton Blanchard (160) and Kaleb Venema (171).
The Vikings who finished runner-up in their classes were Nicholas Blanchard (130), Jacob Haynes (135), Allen Powers (189) and Jarrean Sargeant (285).
Other individual champions were Reeths-Puffer’s Jacob Blawat, (119), Jack TeVrucht (130), Alex Chipman (135) and Hunter McCall (189); Mona Shores’ Josh Hill (215) and Colt Stout (285); and Ravenna’s Gary Johnson (145).
Other runners-up were Reeths-Puffer’s James Rozycki (140), Thade Rodosa (145), Colby Stephenson (160) and Gerrit Andrus (215); Orchard View’s Brendan Hyatt (125) and Thomas Shawl (152); Fruitport’s Mason Brown (112) and Crue Cooper (171); Mona Shores’ Antony Gaiser (19); and Ravenna’s Nicholas Scofield (103).