O'NEILL, Neb. -- It's no secret that building successful athletic programs usually begins early on when kids are young & impressionable.
That winning formula seems to be paying dividends these days as the Leprechaun Youth Sports Program has produced a number of state champions in Our Town O'Neill.
"Leprechaun Youth Sports began as Leprechaun Wrestling about 13 years ago when as the high school coach I wanted to create an environment for our young kids in our elementary school to really take part in the sport and have an identity," Bryan Corkle said.
Corkle has been the wrestling coach at O'Neill High School for the past 14 years.
"O'Neill, five years ago we were one of just a hand full of schools in the state that had never won a state championship in any activity, and now in the last three years, we've pulled off two of them. That's a pretty special thing and recognizing the role that this club has played in that process is rewarding," Corkle said. "I certainly don't take credit for it, but it's rewarding."
In 2015, O'Neill finally brought home their first state championship trophy as they won the Class C state wrestling title, and a leader on that squad was individual state champion and life-long leprechaun, Blake Walters.
"It's a big deal. If it wasn't for this, I would've never been where I was so I got to give back a little bit," Walters said.
"It's pretty important, yeah," said Brady Thompson.
Thompson is an 8th-grader who is well aware of the advantage he has by being a 10-year veteran of leprechaun youth sports.
"It motivates me really. Because I think about those bigger kids and most of those high schoolers and how hard they work, and I want to be like them when I grow up," Thompson said.
Four years after the Leprechaun Wrestling Club got underway, it expanded to include football.
"We've been able to find a lot more success with bringing home hardware the last couple of years," Nick Hostert said.
Hostert has been at O'Neill High School for nearly 3 decades, and he is quite certain that Leprechaun Youth Sports played a very large role in the Eagles going 13-0 last fall and bringing home the C-1 State Football Championship.
"Leprechaun Youth Sports has been a huge part of our athletic program, as have all of our youth programs here inside our community," Hostert, the Athletic Director who's beginning his 28th year, said. "We have a number of very dedicated adults, as well as community coaches that are willing to give up of their own free time, really for the benefit of the youth of our community, and that's really been an important part of us finding success at the high school level."