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Tony Fugleberg tabbed to lead Fargo girls wrestling program in first season

This past grappling season was the first in which the North Dakota High School Activities Association sanctioned a girls division at the state tournament, an initiative Fugleberg played a major role in.

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Tony Fugleberg embraces Davies wrestler Avery Mohr after she clinched the NDHSAA 130 pound state championship.
WDAY Sports
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FARGO — High school girls wrestling continues to be on the rise in North Dakota.

This past grappling season was the first in which the North Dakota High School Activities Association sanctioned a girls division at the state tournament.

Now, Fargo Public Schools is taking it one step further, with the announcement this week of a stand-alone girls wrestling program and a new head coach.

The man leading the way will be Tony Fugleberg, as announced by Fargo Public Schools student activities director Todd Olson on Monday.

Fugleberg, a Fargo native and South High School alumnus, has served in various coaching roles over the last several years. Currently, he’s an assistant coach at Fargo Davies High School with the football, wrestling and track and field teams. He’s also coached with the Team North Dakota girls wrestling national program for four years.

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Fugleberg played a major role in getting girls wrestling to become an NDHSAA-sponsored sport in the first place.

As of 2021, 25 states had sanctioned high school girls wrestling since 2018, joining Hawaii, Texas, Washington, California, Alaska and Tennessee, which sanctioned the sport between 1998 and 2015, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Fugleberg estimated North Dakota was among those in the low 30s. Iowa became the 34th state to sanction in January 2022.

Participation in North Dakota grew from about 75 to about 200 wrestlers the first year. Montana, which sanctioned the sport in 2020, saw a growth of about 300% in its first couple of years, Fugleberg said.

“So I’m pretty excited to see what happens with the growth, especially here in Fargo now being a stand-alone team on our own,” he said.

Fugleberg attended the North Dakota State College of Science and Minot State University where he played football and competed in track and field. He first got into wrestling when his brother, who was coaching with the wrestling program at Davies at the time, gave him a call.

“One day, out of the blue, my brother was coaching wrestling at Davies and gave me a call because he was looking for workout partners for his heavyweights,” Fugleberg said. “I was one of the last people he thought of, but one day, he called me and asked if I could come in and work out and I said sure and I haven’t looked back since.”

Fugleberg’s passion for girls wrestling expanded when he was working a junior nationals event one year and was inspired to build the North Dakota program into what was exemplified by other states at the competition.

“The national team kind of just came as … what really opened my eyes to it was about five or six years ago when I was working tables up at junior nationals in July,” Fugleberg said. “Team Texas walked by, right after that Team Illinois, and then Team California. It was just an astonishing number of girls, and I’m watching and I’m like, ‘Where’s the North Dakota team and how do we build this to look like that? How do I get involved?’ And it kind of just took off from there.”

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That passion is why Fargo Public Schools saw Fugleberg as the strongest candidate to lead the way in the girls program’s first season this coming winter.

“I was a big part of the sanctioning process over the last few years,” Fugleberg said. “I was one of the mainstays in the process of actually getting a sanction. So I was watching it develop and was part of the whole process, so I knew it was coming. And with my experience with the national team, we all just kind of knew that it was meant for me almost.

“We had a talk at the end of the state tournament and after Davies had gotten its first state champion (Avery Mohr). I talked to Todd (Olson) briefly and said, ‘Hey, partner, we’ve got our first state champion and I’m ready to roll.’ And we just kind of planned out a planning meeting and wanted to wait until all the other winter sports were done and all the tournaments were done so it kind of freed Todd up a little bit. So we had that and then posted the job the next day. We all knew I wanted it, we all knew I was going to apply for it and it just kind of went from there.”

While Fargo isn’t the first school district to offer a stand-alone girls program, the concept is still fairly new across the state.

Last year, Fugleberg said several North Dakota school districts, such as Bismarck, Mandan, Minot and Jamestown, had girls teams but held practices together and had the same coaches.

Since then, Bismarck schools separated the programs, although some programs, especially those with smaller enrollments, still combine the teams, he said.

“But I think to do it right," Fugleberg said, "(Davies boys wrestling coach) Keenan Spiess and I after the dual tournament in February talked and he told me, 'If we’re going to do this, you’re probably done with the boys and we’re going to go completely separate.’ Just to give the girls the attention they deserve.”

The program will consist of students from Davies, North and South high schools, with the option for Shanley and Oak Grove high schools to join in, as well, Fugleberg said.

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Fugleberg will remain in his current roles with the Davies football and track and field programs, as well as continuing to coach Team North Dakota wrestling at the national level.

Winning a state championship in the program’s first sanctioned year would be a cherry on top. But for now, Fugleberg said the ultimate goal is to continue to increase girls wrestling participation numbers, both within the Fargo program and across the state.

“The ultimate goal right away is to build numbers,” he said. “The ultimate goal right away is to build the program. Would I like to come out in year one and win a state title? Absolutely. But right now the big focus is building. Getting those numbers out, getting that retention from Year 1 to Year 2, getting the program to happen and giving it two legs to stand on.”

Ryan Spitza joined The Forum in December 2021 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Marquette, Mich., a city of 20,000 on the southern shore of Lake Superior. He majored in multimedia journalism and minored in public relations at Northern Michigan University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in May 2019. While attending college, Spitza gained real-world experience covering high school and college athletics for both The Mining Journal and The North Wind.

Spitza can be reached at 701-451-5613 or rspitza@forumcomm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryspitza.
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