BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KMSP) - A group of students used their day off of school Monday to say thank you to their wrestling coach by riding the bus. Jeff Wichern is a Metro Transit bus driver by day, but in the evenings, he’s a wrestling coach for JJ Trained Wrestling School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
“He's with these kids seven days a week, so he works, drives the bus all day long and then comes to practice at night,” said Amanda Gau, President of JJ Trained. “He really does a lot for these kids.”
With the students having the day off for President’s Day, their parents organized a trip to the Mall of America to surprise Wichern on his route.
About 20 students joined in on the surprise.
“He's had a big impact on all of us,” said Jack Neal, a student who travels from Minneapolis to the school. “He just wants us to get better. And that's the thing. He just makes us tougher.”
Wichern’s 515 bus pulled in to the station right on time, and the students were there to greet him.
“When I pulled up, my first thought was man I hope I'm not picking up a bunch of school kids,” Wichern said. “And all of a sudden they're all my guys.”
Those involved with JJ Trained Wrestling said Wichern gives his all, up to 30 hours a week, teaching techniques students then practice in weekend tournaments.
“My dad coached me for 25 years, and it's just been in my blood, my whole life,” he said.
He tries to pass on the lessons learned on the mat to his students.
“When we moved to Eden Prairie, my oldest was being bullied at school, had low self-esteem,” Gau said. “He's really changed his life. He's now a leader in school, he taught him how to build his confidence.”
The school started with students in just Eden Prairie, but now students from all over the metro are training there.
“Just to try to be a better person overall, to help be a good mentor to them, and we have a saying that we're a family, not a factory,” Wichern said.