Legendary Apple Valley wrestling coach retires

A wise man once spoke about how to be successful.

“You have to have a passion,” he said. “You have to be enthusiastic about what you do. The way you are will rub off on your kids. They’ll see that you’re enthusiastic. They’ll see that you have passion and that it’s important to you. That’s extremely important in anything you do if you want to have success.”

This man knows what he is talking about. He knows what it is like to be passionate and enthusiastic about a job and a sport you love. He knows about winning with pride and losing with dignity. He knows what it’s like to watch a teenager pour his heart and soul into months of working toward accomplishing one final goal at the end of a season. He knows what it’s like to watch boys grow into men — men that win both state and national championships.

Yes, after 32 years of coaching the most successful wrestling program in Minnesota history, Jim Jackson knows about success.

“I feel good when you see any athlete or any person obtain their goal, whether it might be making varsity or making it to State or being a state champion,” Jackson said. “When you work with these kids, when they work hard and you see them reach their goals, I think that’s really kind of a neat thing.”

On May 1, Jim Jackson retired from the Apple Valley wrestling program.

“It boils down to the point that I have a 12-year-old daughter and I want to be able to spend more time with her,” Jackson said. “I have been coaching for 32 years and I’ve spent a lot of time with other people’s kids, and I miss out on her, especially for (the duration of the wrestling season). Wrestling is only a four-month sport, but it never really ends. So I just want to focus on being with her.”

His daughter, Taylor, is an avid tennis player.

“I like to go to (her tennis) tournaments on Saturdays, too,” Jackson said. “So I just thought it was time and the program is in good shape.”

Over the years, he’s assembled a career record of 619-26-3. His winning percentage is .958, the best in Minnesota high school wrestling history and he’s watched 56 individual state championship medals get handed to wrestlers on his team. He’s coached the Eagles to 14 team state championships and has guided teams to two national titles.

An assistant coach for 15 seasons before taking over the head coaching job in 1995, Jackson has dedicated much of his life to the Apple Valley wrestling program. It was just time.

“I’m going to make it a clean break. I’ll be out of there for good,” Jackson said. “I don’t think it’s right for me to be around. I think I need to stay away for a while. I’ll follow them on the Internet or whatever, but I think I just need to stay away. I’ll respect the new coach’s wishes, whatever they may be, and it’ll be a transition that they don’t need me hanging around for.”

He’s seen all the ups and downs imaginable throughout the course of his coaching career, but there are a couple things that he will always remember from his time with the Eagles.

“My fondest memory would have to be all the time you spend in the room with the kids and the coaches, and when everyone in the room knows that we worked hard,” Jackson said. “Then you go to competition and you know that your team’s ready. You work hard for a reason, and you train certain ways and do this. The kids, they take it to the mat and they perform. That to me is really the fun part about it. It’s great when you know that you’ve prepared well.”

It’s one of his favorite memories: watching young wrestlers work and prepare all season to achieve their goals.

“There’s not a better feeling than that,” Jackson said. “That you know that you have prepared well and the kids have prepared well, they’ve trained hard, and then you go out and you compete and you compete well at a high level.”

Coach Jackson is a strong believer in dedication and hard work, and that’s always been a big factor in the way he trains wrestlers.

“The one thing we tend to live by is when you work hard, good things or great things will happen,” Jackson said. “I can’t tell you that if you work hard you’re going to be a state champion, but I guarantee if you work hard, someday in your life all the hard work in going to pay off.”

The high standard he has carried for his athletes for all of these years may have been the key to his team’s success.

“When our kids leave our program they learn a strong work ethic,” Jackson said. “If you have a strong work ethic, you will rarely fail.”

The positive memories certainly prevail over any negative memories from his time at Apple Valley. If you ask him what his least favorite memory is, though, he doesn’t struggle to come up with an answer.

“When kids get beat in tough matches. That’s my least favorite memory,” Jackson said. “When you see kids get beat and it’s gut wrenching. When you know how hard they’ve worked and then you see them lose a very tight match, it just about makes you want to throw up. It makes you sick to your stomach. That’s my least favorite memory: When one of your kids gets beat. It just tears you apart.”

He didn’t have to experience that feeling often with the wrestlers in his program. Over three decades at Apple Valley, it’s safe to say that Jim Jackson had one of the most successful coaching careers in Minnesota prep sports history.