OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Update: Feb. 2, 2022, 7:05 p.m.
Girls wrestling was sanctioned as a Nebraska School Activities Associated sport last spring, meaning the 2021-2022 season holds the inaugural class of girls wrestling teams.
“The wrestling community is very tight-knit, and especially girls wrestling since its the first year, so we wanted to do whatever we could to help out the Pierce family and just girls wrestling in Nebraska,” said Piper Zatechka, a freshman wrestler at Westside High School.
When the high school girls wrestling community found out it lost one of its own last weekend, the Westside Warriors wrestling program wasted no time to come together.
A house fire in the small northern Nebraska town of Pierce resulted in the deaths of three children of the Clausen family, including Candace Clausen who was a wrestler on the Pierce High School team.
“The great thing about the wrestling community and family is that you’re there to support everybody," said Michael Jernigan, overall head coach of the boys wrestling program at Omaha's Westside High. "Even though you’re wrestling against each other, you're competing against other schools, when it comes down to it, you support the people in your community. And when this tragic event happened up in Pierce, you know it affects the whole wrestling community. The girls side of it, the boys side of it, their whole community, everybody up in that area is drastically affected by it. Kids that have competed against those young and women, and it's huge.”
Months before the fire, Nebraska wrestling coaches were gearing up for the first girls season. In December, the team came up with the idea to raffle a sherpa blanket with Westside Warriors printed on it for a team fundraiser, with each ticket going for $10 apiece. But on Sunday, Zatechka and her mom, Jennifer, found out that Pierce had lost one of its players on Saturday, they asked if their fellow Warriors would be okay with redirecting the funds to the Clausen family.
"This is just Westside's way," said Jennifer Zatechka, who still advocated for donations to the Clausens through other campaigns and not just Westside's. They want the focus to be on the healing, not who is helping.
— Westside Girls Wrestling (@WHSGirlsWrestle) January 31, 2022
“This started as a fundraiser for the girls wrestling program, and then we heard about what happened in Pierce, and we wanted to do whatever we could to help them, so we are just changing where the money’s going and it’s benefiting the family to try to help them through this tough time,” said Zatechka, who wrestles in the 165-pound weight class. “And obviously, it won’t replace what’s been lost, but whatever we can do.”
Though Zatechka never personally wrestled against Candace Clausen, she said that Pierce High School was a frequent competitor who was present at wrestling tournaments that Westside competed in. Regardless of who scored points where, or whose teams won, the wrestling experience extends off the mat.
“I think that shows a lot about our team,” said Bob Mulligan, head girls wrestling coach at Westside High School. “Obviously, if you’ve been kind of following girls wrestling, you know that we have very good wrestlers on the team, we have two or three of the top-ranked girls in the state. But it shows more about their character than anything that this is what they want to do. Very easily they could say, ‘no we raised this money for our program, we could use it for whatever, but ‘no we are going to give this to somebody else that needs it more.’ “
The fundraiser had garnered $700 by Tuesday, but the Westside team has a goal of $1,000 or more by Feb.10th. All proceeds of the fundraiser will benefit the Clausen family who fell victim to the housefire in Pierce, and anyone — not just wrestling fans — can donate to "@westsidewrestling" through Venmo with the subject line "Blanket Raffle."