Grand Island Northwest wrestling coach Brian Sybrandts and his family have been named 2019 Paul Beranek Courage Award winners by The Independent. The family includes (from left) Katelyn Sybrandts, 10, Keely Sybrandts, 6, Stacy Sybrandts, Brian Sybrandts, Kamry Sybrandts, 6, and Kyla Sybrandts, 13. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

Brian Sybrandts has built a wrestling program at Northwest.

This past season, the Vikings captured the school’s first-ever state championship.

During Sybrandts’ 14-year career as the Northwest head coach, the Vikings produced the 2019 Class B state championship, the 2018 Class B state runner-up, two individual state champions, two team district championships and participated in the state duals tournament four times in the past five years.

But he knows all that wouldn’t be possible without the support of Stacy, his wife of 15 years, and their four daughters — Kyla (13), Katelyn (10) and twins Kamry and Keely (6).

“Stacy’s been my No. 1 supporter over the years,” Brian said. “I can’t thank her enough. She’s been really big for me to lean on her over the years. And the kids are almost at every home dual.”

But Sybrandts found out the past couple of years that there is more to life than wrestling. Katelyn battled cancer while Brian survived a heart attack.

For those reasons, the Sybrandts family is this year’s winner of the fourth annual Paul Beranek Courage Award. The award is named after the long-time boys basketball coach at Ravenna who passed away in 2015 after a long battle with cancer. The award honors someone who has overcome great obstacles in order to just participate in athletics.

Katelyn had a rare form of cancer called Ependymoblastoma. In 2014, she told her parents that there was a bump on her tailbone. You couldn’t see it unless she bent over, mostly when she got done taking a bath.

The Sybrandts decided to take her to a doctor, who said it was probably teratoma. They said to keep an eye on it if it started to grow.

Brian said they did just that and noticed it was getting bigger. They took Katelyn to Omaha Children’s Hospital for surgery the day before the Flatwater Fracas. The hospital took the diagnosis to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. They didn’t get the results back until sometime around the Central Conference meet in late January to early February. That was then they heard Katelyn had cancer.

“It took a while longer than expected to get back. That right there made me feel something was wrong,” Brian said.

Because of everything that was going on, Sybrandts said he wouldn’t consider coaching wrestling because he wasn’t certain what they had to do with Katelyn. After having a talk with Stacy, Brian decided to keep coaching.

“Wrestling was just a small piece of my life at that moment. The doctors told me that was probably going to be the wrong decision,” he said. “There was a lot of balancing in my family as both of us would go to Omaha with Katelyn for the treatments and all that.”

So many events went on for Katelyn afterwards. Team Katelyn was formed. There’s been a few Facebook pages, including “Katelyn’s Journey: One sparkle at a time.” There had also been a few fundraisers, benefits and donations.

Katelyn went through 14 chemo treatments at Children’s Hospital and had 33 radiation scans at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha the past five years. Now, Katelyn is cancer free. She still has to go in for tests but doesn’t need to do the scans anymore because of the five-year mark.

Brian said Katelyn is an inspiration to a lot of people.

“She’s our little sparkle in our family,” he said. “She’s been the fighter for us. She’s been an inspiration in my life and in a lot of other people’s as well.”

Then came Brian’s situation during the summer of 2018 where he knew something was wrong. He went into St. Francis Medical Center for an EKG test and found nothing wrong.

He took some medicine, and that seemed to help at the time.

But it would get worse.

“Later that evening when I was in bed, I got up and went outside, just to get some air. When I got outside I was just sweating and water was coming down my face. There I knew something wasn’t right,” he said.

The chest pains were on and off on their way to St. Francis. After doing a few more tests while finding nothing, Stacy told him that he should stay at the hospital overnight for observation.

About 15 to 30 minutes after he got into his room, Sybrandts had a heart attack. He was in surgery for 30 minutes and survived. It was discovered that it was caused by a 100% blockage, something that is often called “the widowmaker.”

One week after getting out of the hospital, Brian was on an airplane to Orlando, Florida, to coach a few Nebraska wrestlers in the Disney Duals.

Sybrandts said he felt a little lucky.

“Doctors told me if I would have went home, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the night, especially with a 100% blockage. He didn’t even know how I was functioning,” Brian said. “That threw me off a little bit and it was a big wakeup call for me.”

If he didn’t listen to Stacy, Brian would not have been around to witness what the Vikings accomplished the next two seasons.

The following season, the Vikings had their best state tournament at the time. Northwest finished with five medalists, including runner-up finishes from Collin Quandt, Dalton Quandt, Grady Griess and Cooper Kiser to help them bring home the state runner-up trophy, its best finish since getting second in 1982.

The state championship came the following season as they won the meet with 96 points, five better than runner-up Omaha Skutt, who had won the previous seven titles. It was the second time in 22 years that Skutt did not win Class B.

Northwest was also the third public school since 1993 to win Class B. Omaha Gross had won four straight titles from 1993-96 before Seward ended its run in 1997. Skutt captured the next 13 titles before Central City won the 2011 title.

The state championship was a battle for the Vikings however. They only got two wrestlers into the semifinals and the team was nowhere to be found in the top 10 after Thursday’s action.

Brian had a talk with the wrestlers after the first day.

“I just told them to keep battling until the very end because we’re still in it,” he said. “We need to get bonus points in every match and get a win or two and that will help get us back into the race.

“I felt the kids didn’t want to let us coaches down or their teammates down because Thursday was not a great day for us. If I would have told those kids it was over, they probably would have completely shut down.”

And everyone knows what happened next. The Vikings won a few matches during the consolation round, while Griess and Grady Arends won their semifinal matches to tie Skutt at the end of Friday night.

The next day, Griess captured the 195-pound title, while Arends (second, 106), Collin Quandt (third, 126) and Kiser (fourth, 220) were the other medalists to help the Vikings take the title.

Looking back on what the Vikings had accomplished, Brian is still at a loss for words.

“It’s still unbelievable that I can’t even describe it after all this time,” he said. “Everyone I talk to wants to talk about it. To beat a great program like Skutt is a big deal. I tried to enjoy that moment the most because who knows if there will be another one.”

The entire Sybrandts family was in Omaha to celebrate the state championship on that Saturday. Stacy, who admitted she probably attended one wrestling meet in high school before dating Brian in college, said that made it more special for Brian.

“Kyla hasn’t missed a state tournament since she was one and I’ve missed one when I was pregnant with Katelyn,” Stacy said. “Katelyn has been to almost all of them. The twins hadn’t been to a full state tournament until this year. They weren’t there the first two days but I texted my mom Friday night to bring them up because there’s still a chance.

“Brian was right next to me when we found out Northwest had won and I remember giving him the biggest hug afterwards. Everyone was so excited.”

From the difficult to the special times the Sybrandts family has gone through in the past, which included Kamry having neumothorax when she was born, the coach has a message.

“Enjoy each day to the fullest just because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, or if there is going to be a tomorrow,” Brian said.

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