Teeters fighting the good fight
Since Gary Teeters was introduced to high school wrestling back in 1979 when he was a wide-eyed freshman at Menomonee Falls East High School, he has been infatuated by the sport.
A newcomer to wrestling when his best friend, Tim Rohs, persuaded him to give wrestling a try, Teeters, now 47 and the father of two, quickly fell in love with the sport. He made incredible progress in high school, going from a greenhorn newcomer as a freshman to a third-place finisher at the WIAA state tournament at the UW Field House in 1982 as a senior in the 155-pound class.
Even though his wrestling career ended that wintry February night in Madison, he never gave up on the sport. While doing a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville, Fla., he coached three seasons at nearby Middleburg High School, teaching the fundamentals and techniques of the sport to as many kids as would listen.
After his stint in the Navy ended, he moved back to Wisconsin and knew he wanted to stay involved in wrestling. That's when he started officiating the sport he so dearly loved. His first year of officiating was in 1988, and he's been at it ever since. In fact, he worked a full schedule of dual meets and tournaments through December.
That's when his life changed dramatically. Wrestling, a sport he had become a staple in for more than 30 years, suddenly took a back seat, and living became his top priority.
In early January, he wasn't feeling well, getting headaches and bloodshot eyes. He went to the doctor and then to a specialist. On Jan. 17, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
"I just finished my first round of radiation treatments, and now I have some time off before they start again," Teeters said. "It all happened pretty fast. One day I was officiating wrestling, and a few days later I was told I had brain cancer. Life can change in a hurry."
But just as he did on the mat as a competitor, Teeters isn't giving up. In fact, he said he's fighting harder than ever. "I look at this the same way a young wrestler looks at his highly publicized opponent. If I didn't think I could win, I wouldn't be wrestling," he said. In Teeters' case, he's just battling a different opponent.
Teeters admitted that had his friend not persuaded him to try out for the team at Falls East, he might never had gotten interested in the sport.
"I was a basketball player all the time, and that was my favorite sport," Teeters said. "But once I got into wrestling practice, I knew that was where I wanted to be. It's been a huge part of my life and my family's life ever since."
Not only has Teeters done well both wrestling and officiating, but he also proudly watched and cheered on his son Mitch during his highly successful wrestling career at Pewaukee. His son finished his career in 2010 with back-to-back individual state tournament appearances and was a member of several teams that qualified for the state team wrestling championships.
"I was proud of Mitch for what he accomplished in wrestling," Gary said. "He didn't wrestle right away in grade school, but he knew about the sport. He would tag along with me when I was reffing tournaments. Like me, he was playing grade school basketball at the time, and I never pushed him into wrestling. But then one day he and some of his buddies wanted to try the sport, and they did one of those conference meets. From there he fell in love with the sport and had a very good career."
With his son out of high school, and with serious health issues staring him in the eyes, wrestling is still his passion. Just last Saturday, he was watching a friend's son take part in a youth tournament. Now that's dedication to a sport.
A fundraising event is being planned for June 12 in Pewaukee to benefit the Teeters family. More information on that day will be available soon.
For now, Teeters will take his fight from the wrestling mat to the treatment centers, not backing down an inch. He knows he's in for the fight of his life.
Through it all, he has stayed positive and vows to never give up. That's the way he wrestled, and that's how he's fighting right now.
Do me a favor; if you see Gary on the street, give him a pat on the back. You won't meet a better guy. If good guys are supposed to finish first, Gary Teeters is a true champion.
And do me one more favor. The next time you get the chance, don't be afraid to say a little prayer for him. His family and friends will appreciate it.
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