Wrestling windfall at Woodruff
Woodruff reaps benefits of three generations
BY CLARE JELLICK
Peoria Journal Star
Four-year-old Vinny Querciagrossa peered into a trophy case at Woodruff High School, pressing his hands and face against the glass.
Vinny has a bit of an obsession with trophies. He doesn't have any of his own, but he collects old ones. Three sit in his room at home.
"I bet you my dad won all these trophies because my dad is a great wrestler," Vinny said as he looked at the rows of trophies.
If trophy collecting is your thing, there isn't a better family to be in than Vinny's. His dad and grandpa are both part of Woodruff's legendary wrestling history, and Vinny may soon be making history of his own.
This year, Vinny began wrestling with a youth team housed at Woodruff, called the Razorbacks.
"He likes to roll around. He likes to mix it up. He doesn't shy away from attacking or being combative, so to speak. That's good. That's a sign," his grandpa Jim Querciagrossa, 61, said recently.
The Querciagrossa name is written all over Woodruff's wrestling program, but to understand how deeply it's etched, you have to go back nearly 40 years. Jim started coaching wrestling in 1968 and retired as a legend in 1992 with more than 300 wins. He remained a teacher there until 2000.
During his last four years as a coach, Jim coached son Jayson, who became a Woodruff legend in his own right. Jayson was fourth in the state in high school and went on to become an NCAA
Division II All-American wrestler in college.
Jayson found his way back to Woodruff in 2000, taking the head coach position, and hasn't had a losing season since. His team is 18-1 this season. And earlier this month, he reached dual win No. 100 for his career.
Jim was the driver's education teacher, and so is Jayson, who teaches classes from the same room and desk as his dad.
"If you would have told me 15 years ago that when I left here, I was going to go and come back here and be in the exact same room ... I would have told you you were full of baloney," said Jayson, 33, of Metamora.
Big Q, little Q
There's the head rub, the belt tug and the shirt tuck, just a few of the mannerisms that Jayson and Jim share as coaches.
Jayson said if you compare videotapes from his career and his dad's coaching career, the similarities are uncanny. And there's plenty of people around to remind him about it.
Jayson has six assistant coaches, and five of them used to wrestle for Jim.
"It's everything. The way they walk. They way they talk. They get up and they fix their belt and they fix their shirt while talking," said assistant coach Jay Pearson, who wrestled for Jim starting at age 8.
Jim is better known as "Coach Q," and so is Jayson, but to some people who know them both, they're "Big Q" and "Little Q." So what does that make Vinny? "Littler Q," Jayson once mused.
Pearson said both coaches have a knack for keeping close tabs on their wrestlers' academic lives. Just like his dad, Jayson allows the wrestlers to keep their books and backpacks in his classroom so that he can see them during the school day and check up on them.
"They know what your grades are in your class. If you're having problems, they go to that teacher and see what needs to be done. Big Q, if we weren't at school, he would call us and tell us to get to school," Pearson said.
On the wrestling mats, the biggest difference between father and son is that Jayson is a wrestler at heart and Jim is a coach, Pearson said. Jim never wrestled; he learned the ropes as an assistant coach before moving to the head position.
Pearson said the difference doesn't mean one is better than the other. It just means that Jayson can draw upon personal experience to coach the kids.
"(Jayson) actually used these moves, and he wrestled with them, and he knows which ones are better for which situations. ... He knows what it takes to be an All-American," Pearson said.
A 10-year period separated father and son's coaching tenure at Woodruff, and Jayson said the program slipped during that time. He believes the key to his success is his coaching staff.
When he got here in 2000, he contacted his former teammates to see if they could help out.
"I went around and made phone calls and said, 'I got the job. I want you to do this.' None of them said no. Everybody else came back just because I asked them," Jayson said.
Jayson also worked to re-establish the youth wrestling program that thrived under his dad's tenure. There are now more than 50 kids on the Razorbacks team, ranging in age from 3 to 14.
"In order to be an outstanding program, you have to have some kind of feeder program," said Jayson, who doesn't coach the team but helps out when he's around.
The Razorbacks compete at the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation Open today at the Civic Center. Vinny won't be attending because he doesn't compete yet.
Vinny took periodic breaks during wrestling practice last week to hug his grandma Jan Querciagrossa, who was watching in the corner of the room.
He wore a red singlet that belonged to his dad as a child; the color brought out the ruddiness in his cheeks that developed from the arduous workout.
"I'm sweaty because I was wrestling too much, and that makes me start to sweat," Vinny said during one of his breaks.
When dad Jayson attends practice, he purposely stays out of his son's line of vision. Otherwise the 4-year-old is completely distracted.
"It's good to hide sometimes. Otherwise he just wants me," Jayson said.
Keeping Vinny out of competition for now was a conscious decision made by his father. Jayson said he's going to wait until Vinny has a better understanding of what's expected of him.
"I'll probably have him compete when me and him can communicate enough to where I can tell him what to do, when to do it, and he understands how important the situation is," Jayson said.
In the meantime, the Querciagrossa family is taking a laid-back approach to the boy's interest in wrestling. If Vinny wants to go to practice, they take him. If he doesn't, they don't make him.
"Right now he's going to wrestling practice like it's a party, and we're hugging, and we're rolling around. We're learning some things, but basically he gets to roll around with kids his age. . . . It ends up being just a hugging match," Jayson said.
The situation was different for Jayson, who started wrestling when he was 2 and began competing at age 4.
"We pushed him more than Vinny. I wouldn't recommend that," said Jayson's mom, Jan.
Jayson said his dad was tough on him sometimes, but when he looks back on it, he knows it was for the best.
"There were times that were hard when I was growing up, and I look back on it and I'm like, 'I'm glad he was (tough) because I wouldn't be in the place I am now,' " Jayson said.
He and his dad relieved stress by hunting and fishing together on the weekend, and they carry on the tradition with Vinny.
"Whether (Vinny) is going to adapt to this game or not is going to be up to him, but the primary things right now is for him to enjoy fishing and hunting with his grandpa," Jim said.
Jayson said it's pretty likely that Vinny will get hooked on wrestling because he is growing up around the sport. Vinny usually is on the sidelines at home wrestling events or sitting in dad's lap while he coaches.
Jayson grew up the same way, a self-described "bleacher rat," and said he probably became addicted to wrestling long before he knew it.
"I was raised by a whole bunch of wrestlers. It kind of grows on you," Jayson said.