Prep Wrestling

Lisbon's Cael Happel named Iowa's Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award winner

UNI signee capped prep career as state's 28th 4-time state champ

Lisbon's Cael Happel walks back to reset while wrestling Alburnett's Noah Mackey during the 138-weight semifinal bout of
Lisbon’s Cael Happel walks back to reset while wrestling Alburnett’s Noah Mackey during the 138-weight semifinal bout of the Class 1A sectional at Lisbon High School in Lisbon on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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LISBON — Cael Happel considers himself more than a wrestler and his exploits aren’t limited to the sport.

The Lisbon senior excelled in the classroom and owns the reputation as being as good of a person off the mat as he is on it.

His well-rounded attitude made him a perfect candidate for his latest accolade.

Happel was named Iowa’s recipient of the Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award last week by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, honoring senior male wrestlers for their success in wrestling, scholastic achievement, citizenship and community service.

“It speaks to who I am as a person on and off the mat,” Happel said. “It’s bigger than wrestling to me. It’s about how I wrestle and how I carry myself off the mat as well. I think it’s a testimony to that.”

Happel’s resume is as impressive as any of the state’s best. He became Iowa’s 28th four-time state champion, joining his brother, Carter, as the second pair of siblings to win four titles.

The University of Northern Iowa signee posted a 53-0 record, adding the Class 1A 138-pound title to crowns at 113, 120 and 132. He was named the Dan Gable Mr. Wrestler of the Year winner and ascended to second at 138 in trackwrestling.com’s national rankings. He closed his prep career with a 217-5 mark, ranking second all-time in victories, trailing Missouri Valley’s Nathan Haynes by two.

Happel thrived in his studies, earning first-team academic all-state honors from The Predicament. He plans to major in accounting, while wrestling for Panthers Coach Doug Schwab.

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“He is just an awesome person on and off the mat,” Lisbon Hall of Fame Coach Brad Smith said. “He treats everyone like he wants to be treated. A really caring individual.”

Happel is quick to credit his family for the traits that have made him a well-rounded standout. Growing up in a household with nine children (five boys and four girls), the smallest of happenings turned into a contest. He also attributed his toughness to the fitness regimen during home schooling.

“Growing up with a lot of family members there is always a competition around the corner, whether it’s who can eat their dinner fastest or put away the dishes,” Happel said. “A lot of it is I don’t like to lose and part of that matured there, racing around the house with Carter or whoever.

“Then, being mentally tough as well. Our mom (Dawn) used to put us through a bunch of workouts. Half the day she’d have us swinging kettle bells and doing pushups. It was tough. She was big on that.”

His family also instilled humility based in their faith. Happel is respectful and isn’t demonstrative in his actions. He has always been wired that way.

“The characteristics of self-control and being humble comes from that faith background that we have,” Happel said. “I don’t like to go around and be boastful. People who see me on the street think I’m a normal guy and that is how I like it. That is how we’ve been taught from a young age.”

Happel has tried to stay busy throughout the quarantine. He helped his family renovate their backyard, digging holes, spreading massive amounts of mulch and other landscaping. Anything to avoid being cooped up inside.

“It was more because I was bored and I like to work with my hands,” said Happel, who recently finished classes. “I go crazy if I’m just sitting doing nothing. It was one of those big projects we took on as a family.

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“Just took our mind off the quarantine and what’s going on in the world. It’s nice to be able to work.”

Happel has revisited those kettle-bell workouts since the school’s facilities aren’t an option. He also has been able to get mat time at a teammate’s workshop converted into a wrestling room.

His break started the day before he was set to leave for the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic (also referred to as Dapper Dan Wrestling Classic), pitting a national all-star team against Pennsylvania’s top high school seniors. Happel was set to face Virginia Tech recruit Sam Hillegas of North Hills High School before the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was ready. It was good competition. The kid won a PA (Pennsylvania) state title, so I was looking forward to that match and wrestling someone with a different style. PA guys are usually really good on top and I struggle on bottom, so that’s where I was hoping to get exposure to the PA top-style wrestling.”

Happel is anxiously waiting for his chance to start his UNI career. He trained in Cedar Falls some last summer and was impressed with training partners and the atmosphere in the room. Happel made a strong personal connection to Schwab and his staff.

“It’s a blessing to be a part of that program now,” Happel said. “Doug and company are doing a terrific job, not just wrestling, but molding guys. An important part of your life is 19-22 age group and that’s where you mature a lot of your characteristics.

“Doug is a role model I get to look up to with (UNI assistants) Lee Roper, Randy Pugh and those guys. It’s cool. They are going to shape me into a better person besides just on the wrestling mat.”

The Dave Schultz award is named after the Hall of Fame wrestler who won an NCAA title for the University of Oklahoma before becoming an Olympic and World champion revered by coaches, competitors and fans all over the globe.

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According to a news release from the NWHOF, winners are evaluated and selected based on success and sportsmanship in wrestling, grade-point average, class rank, academic honors and distinctions in school and participation in activities that demonstrate commitment to character and community.

“This is the 25th year that we have presented our Dave Schultz High School Excellence Award and we’re excited to recognize another group of young men, who have excelled not only on the wrestling mat, but also in the classroom and in their communities,” Hall of Fame Executive Director Lee Roy Smith said in the news release. “I want to thank our selection committee for the thorough work they have done in determining this year’s winners. We look forward to following these young men as they chart new goals for themselves on the mat and in their lives.”

Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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