By Ray Hamill — The local high school wrestling community got a boost this week with the news that Cass Bell is returning to Arcata High School to take over as the Tigers’ wrestling coach.
Bell, a local MMA legend, will take over from Eric Mikolai, who stepped down this year and reached out to the former Tigers grappler a few months ago to see if he would be interested in the job.
After interviewing last week, Bell was officially hired earlier this week, and he couldn’t be happier about the news.
“I’m super excited,” he said. “It’s one of the things I have wanted to do since I was younger. To coach at Arcata High is one of my dreams.”
Bell, who was born and raised in Arcata, was a standout wrestler for the Tigers from 2001 to 2005 and a two-time team MVP and captain.
He wrestled under legendary Tigers coach Burt Van Duzer and has been leaning on his old mentor for advice.
“There are so many coaches that have taught me over the years, things that I use in coaching and things that will help me out,” Bell said. “I’ve been talking a lot to Burt and picking his brain about how to run a season and how to run a successful high school program.”
Bell has also been leaning on his old Arcata Bad Boys and Girls wrestling coach Tim Nichols, who was his first coach in the sport back when he was in seventh grade.
Bell went on to get his start as a coach with the Arcata Bad Boys and Girls team, and he continues to coach the local club.
He also has spent the past five years coaching the Institute of Combat youth wrestling program in Arcata, which has enjoyed success at a number of top tournaments throughout the West Coast.
“I really hope to use my name and build up the program and get more people involved,” he said of the Tigers. “I want to fill up the stands and I want to make it awesome again.”
That’s the long-term plan, but for now he admits it’s going to be a learning process and he needs to focus on the fundamentals.
“I have to focus on the wrestling,” he said. “That’s the most important part before I try to do too much. And again, I’m going to be learning this year, especially with COVID.”
Bell has been a pro fighter with Bellator for the past three years and is 5-2 in that time while putting Humboldt County on the MMA map.
Nicknamed “The Mean Green Fighting Machine,” he intends to keep fighting for Bellator but will be taking a break from the cage for the next six months, until after the high school wrestling season.
“I’ve talked to Bellator and my next fight won’t be for another six or seven months,” he said. “That gives me plenty of time to finish out the wrestling season and plenty of time to return to full-time training.
“I’ll still be training in the mornings and after wrestling practice.”
The busy schedule is just what he likes.
“I do better when my life is hectic,” he said with a chuckle.
Bell also says he is open to anyone who wants to wrestle on his team.
“I don’t care if you’ve never wrestled before, please come out and try out,” he said. “Anybody can wrestle, and I never turn down any kid, and I always give every kid my full attention.”
The early response to this week’s news has been positive, with many of the wrestlers he has coached at the IOC now at high school age.
“I’ve already had so many kids call me up and say ‘hey, I’m going to try out this year,’” he said. “It’s been great feedback.”
One person he consulted heavily before making his decision was his wife, Chelsa, whom he says will play a big role in helping to run the program behind the scenes.
“If I didn’t have a good lady like her, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.
Bell also paid tribute to several coaches and associates he says have had a big impact on his career, including Van Duzer, Nichols, Donny Heron, Tom Hampton, Rob England, PJ Lynch, Willie Hover, Kyle Baxter, Ray Watson, Mark McGuire, John Thompson, Levi Cope, Kenny Stromberg and Josh Vert, and “everyone else who has helped me over the years.”
Bell says he is also looking for donations for the team and for any potential sponsors to reach out.