Photo by Robert Williams
This year’s Frazee-Vergas wrestling season had unique championship legacies continuing through multiple bloodlines dating back 57 years to the first decade of the Hornet wrestling program. Pictured above: Don Foltz, Cade Nagel, Derek Zitzow and Jeff Zitzow.

By Robert Williams


Frazee-Vergas wrestling is a family tradition in both towns that dates back to the beginning of the program in the late 1950’s and this season junior Cade Nagel and senior Derek Zitzow managed to duplicate a feat their grandfathers did in 1967 by winning Heart O’ Lakes Conference Championships.  ¶  Despite the family history, nobody on either side considered what was happening until after it occurred.  ¶  “It wasn’t until after they did it,” said Derek’s dad Jeff Zitzow.  ¶  “I had no idea,” said Cade’s grandfather Don Foltz.  ¶  Jeff had been given a copy of the 50th anniversary of the HOL tournament from the 2007-08 season that had been compiled by former Forum reporter John Dermody, Jill Blauert and Tammie Nunn.  ¶  There are plenty of other families that have conference championships, but the Foltz/Nagel and Zitzow connections of this year are remarkably similar.  ¶  Back on January 15, 1967, Don Foltz won the conference title as a junior 154-pounder and Derek’s grandfather Duane Zitzow did so as a senior heavyweight.

Cade Nagel captured first place at the Heart O’ Lakes Conference tournament earlier this season. He is a junior at Frazee-Vergas High School.

Fast forward 57 years and four days, the Foltz and Zitzow bloodlines were not just on the mat together, but bringing conference titles back to Frazee and Vergas in nearly the same weight classes. Junior Cade Nagel won his conference title as a 160-pounder, followed by senior Derek Zitzow completely duplicating his grandfather’s feat becoming the heavyweight champion on Friday, January 19.

“It’s pretty fun to think about it happening like that,” said Derek Zitzow.

Of the family foursome, one is no longer with us. Duane “Dewey” August Zitzow passed away in 2013 at the age of 64.

Derek Zitzow took first place at the Heart O’ Lakes Conference tournament this season. Zitizow is a senior at Frazee-Vergas High School.

“He only wrestled two years and he could do his thing,” said Foltz. “He was very competent in what he was doing. Of course, nowadays, they have so many more holds than they did back then. Dewey was a heck of a heavyweight. He was a nice guy, but you don’t cross him. He definitely held his own.”

Don was the first Foltz family member to wrestle for the Hornets.

“To me, it’s my favorite sport,” said Foltz.

Don was in the program from the very beginning.

“I remember looking up in the stands and only seeing parents and by the time I graduated it was packed,” he said. “That’s how fast it got going.”

The popularity of wrestling in Frazee and Vergas was aided by winning consistently.

The first Heart o’ Lakes wrestling conference meet was held January 14, 1960, in Frazee, with teams from Elbow Lake, Hawley, Mahnomen, Pelican Rapids and Perham joining the Hornets. 

The first team title stayed in Frazee and remained there until 1968 as the Hornets went on to win eight straight HOL team championships before Perham put an end to the winning streak.

The eight-year run began with the program’s first head coach Al Holmes, followed by Les Kertscher. Holmes accounted for the first two team championships; Kertscher the next six.

“I suppose it had to end some time, but it’s still tough to take when it happens,” Kertscher told the Forum. “Our  boys gave everything they had and made a good showing in the tournament.”

One of those boys was Don Foltz winning his second straight HOL individual championship at 154 pounds. That family legacy has already been matched as Cade Nagel is currently a two-time HOL champion.

“Our wrestling team was like a family,” said Foltz. “We hung around together and most of us played football together.”

“Same with us, too,” Derek said.

For both families, the tangents continue to collide between the generations. Both Derek and Cade’s fathers, Jeff and Travis, were HOL champions. Cade’s older brother Jake was a conference champion and the deeper one goes into the Foltz/Nagel bloodlines the more champions one will find from the HOL to state championships via Hall of Fame grandfather Clay Nagel to uncle Matt, an All-American with the University of Minnesota Gophers and Cade’s father Travis, an All-American at Minnesota State University – Moorhead. Wrestling in that family comes with some pressure, something Cade called a “good kind of pressure.”

This year’s feat by Derek and Cade is even more special as the Zitzows hail from Vergas and the Nagels from Frazee bringing both towns together in victory.

“You talk about what it means, you just walk in the wrestling room over there and see the tradition on the walls,” Jeff said. “I had the fortune to talk to these guys. I said, you don’t see my picture on this wall. I’m in the hall of fame here in the school and all that but I never had those individual accolades. To see all that. How many have done so well. It’s a big deal. I still walk through the hallway and look up at everyone.”

Carrying on those legacies, both of the team and as part of the families is something special.

“Since kindergarten, once that time of year comes around, it has its pros and cons, but it’s nice having all the students, teachers and the community behind your back,” Derek said.

That started during Don’s era in the 1960’s and reverberated to Jeff when he wrestled in the 1990’s.

“I can remember when we were standing around the mat; the cheerleaders didn’t hardly have any room; the fire marshall would have shut this place down like no tomorrow. Man, I’ll never forget that,” Jeff said.

The pandemic also brought back similarities when only parents were allowed in to watch which matched the early days of the program in the ‘60’s before success brought attending students to the matches with parents. 

Family connections are what will continue the Hornets success on the mat and there are plenty of other successful wrestling families with last names all local fans are familiar with, like the Ahos, Schermerhorn and Ostermans to name a few. That history is also the future of the program that Cade and Derek were able to highlight this year.

“It’s good kids and good families; that’s a big part of it,” Cade’s mom Tiffany Nagel said. 

“Frazee’s got a good history of that,” said Don.

Like many families before them, the end of a senior season can be tough, more so for the parents than for the kids.

“It’s going to be hard with Derek being done,” said Jeff. “I sure loved it and even after I graduated watching Travis and Matt down at the state tournament all the time. Wrestling wasn’t always my favorite sport but today, it is.”