Two South Dakota wrestling titans are giving back to their home state.
University of Nebraska wrestling coaches -- Mark Manning and Robert Kokesh -- will conduct a youth wrestling camp on July 16-17 at Stanley County High School in Fort Pierre. Manning was a two-time Big 12 coach of the year at Nebraska, while Kokesh was a three-time All-American for the Huskers.
But their wrestling journeys started in South Dakota, which makes the annual wrestling camp in Fort Pierre a special occasion each summer. Kokesh hails from Wagner, while Manning grew up in Vermillion.
“It’s always fun to come back, especially with me and Manning both being from South Dakota,” Kokesh said. “It’s always kind of nice to go back and give back to our state that we grew up in.”
Manning has conducted the youth camp in Fort Pierre for several years. Manning and Stanley County head coach, Craig Heller, developed a relationship decades ago and it led to the head Husker putting on the annual camp.
“It’s a nice trip for us to get up there and just to get back involved with the sport as much as we can,” Kokesh said. “I think (Manning) likes to do it because he likes the sport of wrestling.”
Kokesh, who attended the camp growing up, looks forward to the annual camp, too. The South Dakotans usually squeeze in a little fishing along the Missouri River, but it’s all about developing skills on the mat.
“It’s self-satisfaction seeing these kids develop and seeing the kids putting the time in during the summer, wanting to get better and that’s probably the most rewarding thing,” Kokesh said.
It’s also rewarding given the current state of the wrestling program. Nebraska currently can’t recruit prospective student-athletes until Aug. 31. Therefore, the camp in Fort Pierre is for kindergarten-through-eighth graders.
The Huskers also had to cancel their annual summer camps in Lincoln, Nebraska, due to NCAA and university restrictions related to COVID-19.
“We are trying to work through this time and make the most of it,” Kokesh said. “We are still trying to grow the sport of wrestling in whatever way we can. It’s been a challenging time, but we are trying to work through it and trying to get the best outcome we can.”
Kokesh is entering his second season on the Husker coaching staff. After wrestling at Nebraska from 2011-15, Kokesh was the Wagner head wrestling coach for two seasons. He officially joined the Husker coaching staff on July 30, 2019 and was instrumental in another banner season.
Kokesh helped the Huskers go 11-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten. The fourth-ranked Huskers finished second at the Big Ten tournament, the program's best-ever finish as a member of the Big Ten conference and its best conference championships finish since tying for first at the 2009 Big 12 Championships.
“I am really enjoying my time here in Lincoln and I just love the coaching aspect,” Kokesh said. “It’s nice to be on the opposite side of the spectrum I guess you could say. I am just really enjoying that and trying to continue developing our guys here in Lincoln and hopefully we make a title run in the near future.”