“I got tired of sitting at home while other kids were doing stuff.”
That’s Tanner Webb’s simple explanation of how he got involved in serving as an athletics manager three years ago as a seventh-grader at Creston Middle School. He doesn’t let being in a wheelchair with spastic cerebral palsy slow him down.
So, the Creston/Orient-Macksburg wrestling team will be taking more than coaches, cheerleaders and five wrestlers to the state tournament this week. They will be joined by one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated team managers in the business.
He not only fetches water and gathers equipment for the wrestlers at practice and meets, but he also watches intently in a sport he once got to experience briefly on the mat.
“When he was about kindergarten age, Mark Loudon was still helping out with our Express Wrestling Club, and he’d help Tanner get out there and wrestle,” said Panther coach Darrell Frain.
“I pretty much got my butt kicked,” Tanner said with his usual brute honesty. “I love the sport, but I can’t obviously do it. My hips came out of their sockets when I was little, and had to be rebuilt. That was the end of my wrestling career.”
Loudon said Tanner left a lasting impression.
“His body was stiff and wouldn’t let him do what he tried to do,” Loudon said. “But he had the heart, and he tried. He could do a couple of moves. You could just tell from a young age he had the heart and desire. If his body had let him do it, he would have done it.”
In that spirit, Tanner now watches from the sideline and offers his support as a 16-year-old sophomore. He does the same thing during football season.
“I’m here because I love the sport, and I love just being around the guys and being able to help out,” Tanner said.
With a long-term goal of becoming a social studies teacher and coach, Tanner has become a student of both football and wrestling while serving as team manager.
A self-described football “nut” who designed his own playbook for the Madden NFL video game, Tanner was given an opportunity late in an eighth-grade football game to call some offensive plays by coach Jon Thomson. They both laugh about it now.
“I wanted to step on their throat, but coach said not to pass so much,” Tanner said, grinning.
Now, as a high-school manager, Webb hopes to take it a step further.
“I’ve talked to coach (Kevin) Cooper about letting me call some plays at the JV level,” Tanner said, “so I’m excited for that opportunity.”
During the school day, Tanner is assisted by Corey Fleharty, a special education paraprofessional. Steve Wilson has been his activities paraprofessional since Webb’s seventh-grade year.
“His mother was a case manager for Adams, Taylor and Union counties and I worked with SIRF (Southern Iowa Residential Facility),” Wilson said. “She asked if I would like to work with her son. Tanner and I have grown a lot together. It’s on a professional level, but you’re like a friend, too.”
“Steve is kind of like a second father to me,” said Tanner, son of Kevin and Amy Webb of Creston. “We can go from being ticked off at each other, to hugging each other the next five seconds. It’s very unique.”
“We don’t hold anything back,” said Wilson, whose “other” job is with Specialized Support’s satellite office in Creston, working with mentally challenged people.
Tanner’s mother, the former Amy Welch of Winterset, came from a wrestling family. It didn’t take her son long to show an interest in the sport, despite his limitations.
“He just loves sports,” Kevin said. “He’ll watch for hours, and analyze everything. One of the wrestlers, Gavin Leith, came up to me once said he just wanted me to know that Tanner is truly part of the team.”
Tanner learned the ropes of successful team managing from CHS senior Tyler “Skippy” Mood, known for the bounce in his step as he assists several Panther varsity sports.
“Tanner is amazing,” Mood said. “He’s a huge help to me in football. We gave him this little crate for the back of his wheelchair, and he’d go out and take water to the guys.”
Frain said Tanner is as dedicated as any of the athletes on his fifth-rated squad.
“He treats it like he’s one of the guys, and he needs to be there,” Frain said. “The kids respect him so much. He takes wrestling and football stuff home and watches, and comes back with an idea.”
Brian Morrison, Creston/O-M football coach, said Tanner fits in so well because he’s not singled out for special treatment.
“In the beginning, some of the kids who don’t know him may feel sorry for him or feel a little awkward,” said Morrison. “But, then they see us, as coaches, demand things of Tanner just like anyone. Sometimes it’s brutal weather out there. The kids see that, and they realize he’s an equal.”
When Tanner went on a guided deer hunt three years ago, he said something that defines his outlook on life.
“Anybody can do anything if they put their mind to it,” he said.
As a youngster, Tanner got to meet NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon in Phoenix, Ariz., through Make-A-Wish Foundation. But, it’s local school sports that are closest to his heart.
Two of the most successful athletes in the school, Jake Marlin and Keaton Hulett, are among Tanner’s biggest fans.
“He loves seeing us wrestle,” said Marlin, chasing his fourth state championship this week. “He gets into it. It’s always nice seeing him smile.”
Hulett said having Tanner as a manager is something he’ll never forget from his high school experience.
“He just loves being a part of the team,” said Hulett, a future football player at Northwest Missouri State University. “It’s enjoyed both ways. It’s nice having him around. He’s already told me I need to hook him up with some sideline seats in college!”