CLINTON — The 45th Annual Bob Lueders Invitational is coming up this Saturday, and it’s not a coincidence that the head coach of the Clinton River Kings shares that last name: it’s a family tradition.
“That’s the tournament named after my grandfather and one of the special things about this is I’m a third generation coach,” Clinton Head Coach Eric Lueders said earlier this season. “That doesn’t mean much to the average person but to me personally it’s really a connection to the school, to the history of wrestling here and as a team we take great pride in it.”
Lueders is in his first year as head coach after taking over the job from his father, JD Lueders. JD took over the program in 2010 and coached until the end of the 2016-2017 season. Before that, JD’s father and Eric’s grandfather — Bob Lueders — had the reins of the program from 1963-1990.
Before coaching the River Kings, JD Lueders coached at Northeast, including coaching Eric in high school. So it really is a family affair.
“It’s a great honor that Clinton decided to name that tournament after my grandpa and I don’t take that lightly,” Eric Lueders said. “I don’t think there’s anything more special and more honorable than the work you put into a community and having the same last name as the guy who the tournament is named after is a lot of pride, it’s emotional and you can’t help but smile knowing that he’s always going to be remembered.”
Bob Lueders has certainly been remembered by Clinton, and it’s part of what encouraged Eric to take over the program.
“I still run into people today who wrestled for my grandpa or welded for my grandpa so his impact is still felt throughout the community,” Lueders said. “When I still run into people who know my grandfather, that’s cool. That’s why I got into coaching with him and my dad leading the way. They probably had the most successful 50-year run than any generation of coaches. We take a lot of pride in wrestling in Clinton and I don’t think you can go wrong with those two things.”
Growing up in an environment as saturated in Clinton Wrestling as the Lueders’ household certainly didn’t hurt either.
“I always talk about growing up with the Clinton greats,” Lueders said, referencing athletes like Dan Knight and his own father. JD Lueders won the invitational in 1981 and 1982. “All of these guys are in the room on the wall and will never be taken down I grew up with. It’s an honor to be in this position and something I’ll never forget.”
The tournament, which began in the mid-seventies, is bringing together 24 teams from around the area to compete. This includes large schools like Cedar Rapids Washington and Dubuque Senior, powerhouses like Davenport Assumptions, and small schools like Erie, Lisbon and Northeast.
“It’s an emotional day,” Lueders said. “If you talk about atmosphere — when you get Yourd Gym packed and have five mats and 24 teams. The importance of that kind of meet being a home tournament, you can’t match it. State tournament is always a little bit better, but Bob Lueders, you can’t beat that.”
The River Kings were at the spot Eric Lueders wanted them to be when they broke for the holiday break. They’ve seen success and a couple of athletes in and out of state rankings, including Ethan Barry who currently sits at No. 9 at 195 pounds. Just recently Isaac Larkin broke the school record for the quickest technical fall in just 1:11.
Lueders wants to see his team come into the contests mentally prepared, and keep improving heading into the end of the season.
“I want to see mental toughness. We’re not going to win every match so we need to be able to bounce back and respond the way we need to to keep getting better. We want tough matches and the more tough matches we get the better we’re going to be by the end of the year.”