Schoenlein’s 6-5 win over Hanford’s Eli Perkes in the title match made him one of just two boys in Southwest Washington to win a state championship this year. It also capped a season that saw him lose just one match.
“It’s so hard to put into words the gratitude I feel for my coaches and everyone who helped me get here,” Schoenlein said. For his accomplishments, Schoenlein is The Columbian’s All-Region boys wrestler of the year.
As child, Schoenlein tried all the sports most kids play. Nothing clicked with him like wrestling, with the fast pace, constant movement and extreme focus that the sport demands.
“I have an ADHD mind,” Schoenlein said. “When I played baseball I was OK at hitting the ball. But when I would get on the bases I would literally be so bored. I would pick the bases up and play with the dirt.”
Schoenlein first tried wrestling as a first grader. That soon led him to Portland’s Peninsula Wrestling Club led by Roy Pittman, a National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee.
“I was only in the little kids area for a day before I got bumped up to the bigger guys,” Schoenlein said. “It clicked with me pretty quick and I got decent pretty fast.”
Schoenlein carried his club wrestling success into high school. As a freshman, he won district and regional championships before placing fifth at the 2022 Mat Classic at 160 pounds.
Before this season, Skyview head coach Jeff Thompson and Schoenlein had a two-hour conversation where they outlined a plan that would make a state championship a reality.
“We had to bring in college guys,” Thompson said. “JJ is a born leader. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a state champion.”
Among those to who helped show Schoenlein a higher level of wrestling was Jackson McKinney, a 2018 state champion at Skyview who wrestles for Oregon State and placed third in the Pac-12 at 174 pounds in 2020.
“That was a good wake-up call to what the next level is really like,” Schoenlein said. “He was beating up on me pretty hard.”
Former collegiate athletes who helped Schoenlein include Bryan Hugo, a Ridgefield grad who wrestled at Wabash College (Indiana) and Alex Bubb, a Skyview graduate who wrestled at Portland State.
“(Bubb) is a man with a job but he took time to come in and drill with me for two hours each day for three weeks,” Schoenlein said. “One day, he was like ‘I just called six of my state champion buddies to try and get any advice that I could.’ He poured every drop into it.”
Newly added to the wall of Skyview’s wrestling room is a wooden plaque carved in the shape of Washington. Adorned with Schoenlein’s name and picture, it’s the late keepsake made by one of Thompson’s friends, who makes one for each Skyview state champion.
And for Schoenlein, that plaque honors everyone who helped him reach his childhood goal of becoming the state’s best.
“It’s something on the wall that my friends and coaches can look to and say, I was a part of that,” Schoenlein said. “I want them to say that because they really put everything into me. We got that investment back.”
The rest of the All-Region team
Ivan Bailey, Kalama
The freshman reached the Class B state championship match at 120 pounds. Regional and sub-regional champ with 24-6 record.
Ethan Freund, Kelso
The senior was the 3A GSHL wrestler of the year. He lost just once this season and placed third in state at Class 3A 138 pounds.
Alex Ford, Prairie
Overcoming a knee injury suffered during football season, the senior was state runner-up at Class 3A 170 pounds. District and regional champ.
Noah Koyama, Union
The sophomore was Class 4A state runner-up at 132 pounds. Regional, district and Clark County champion.
Tennyson Kurtz, Columbia River
The junior placed third in state at Class 2A 145 pounds. Regional runner-up, 2A GSHL and Clark County champion.
Owen Pritchard, Skyview
The junior placed second in state at Class 4A 138 pounds. Regional runner-up, district and Clark County champion.
Austin Steinbach, Heritage
The senior placed second in state at Class 3A 285 pounds, losing just two matches all season. Regional, district and Clark County champion.
Harrison Suzara, Kalama
The freshman was state runner up at Class B 106 pounds, losing to a returning state champ in the title match. Regional and sub-regional champion.
Aidan Watson, La Center
The senior placed second in state at Class 1A 126 pounds. Regional and Trico League champion.
Malachi Wallway, La Center
He ended his high school career with a overtime win in the Class 1A 120-pound state title match. Regional and Clark County champ.
Cooper Williams, Castle Rock
The freshman was state runner-up at Class 1A 120 pounds. He beat eventual state champ Malachi Wallway for the Trico League title.