Shawnee Mission tutoring program for athletes honors coach’s vision

MISSION, Kan. -- Shawnee Mission East senior outside linebacker Dane Erickson says he owes a lot  of his success to a former wrestling coach, retired FBI agent Rich Nitsch.

"There's just so much in the world to learn, and Rich was really good at conveying that message," Erickson said.

Erickson has served as student council president the past four years. He still wrestles and is also an Eagle Scout.

Over the winter, Erickson and Coach Nitsch began wrestling with the idea of giving back to the sport that shaped both their lives. They discussed launching a tutoring program for wrestlers at Indian Hills Middle School where Nitsch coached.

“Because he truly believed that wrestling was a path to success and would lead them out of their troubles and challenges," Erickson explained.

Senior Drum Major Natalie Nitsch said her dad told her "academics comes first" up until the day he died suddenly in March at the age of 64.

"Nat and I decided after a week or two that we really need to get this going in his honor, and to help out these kids because they really relied on him so much in their lives," Erickson said.

They called it SAW, which stands for Service Academics and Wrestling, and the tutors say they’ve seen a big improvement in the students.

"The kids that come in that really do need help, it's really gratifying to see myself helping them," Natalie Nitsch said.

They’ve since expanded the program to all athletes at Indian Hills Middle School, where the school proudly displays Nitsch’s 2017 district championship.

"For Dane to be able to do that consistently in our community and let those kids some of whom are going to come to this school, so when they get here the expectation an standard has been set because they've watched such a good example," Coach Justin Hoover said.

"I think he'd think that it's a good legacy for him," Nitsch's daughter said.