The IKWF/IWF Stories-Rush and Morgan meet the legend of Jimmy Kennedy
The last year of a career is a very special time. Reflections, tears, laughter, pictures, memories all come into play.
Coe College's Clayton Rush and Nebraska-Omaha's Mario Morgan are finishing their time on the mat as college wrestlers. Share their story as part three of the journal called The Journey is right here.
In this segment experience with them several IKWF stories of interesting times in the late 1990's, the first USA National tournament and watch their paths cross Illinois best kids wrestler of their time Jimmy Kennedy
Once Upon A Time by Gail Rush
I could tell IKWF stories all day long. Here are just a few.
Anytime I think IKWF, I think of this one. Freestyle State was in Rock Island one year. We didn’t have a clue about freestyle, but we went anyway. Bub must have been in around 3rd or 4th grade. I guess we forget to tell him it was “state” and when he found out, he was even more mad that he got 2nd. Anyway, on to the story. There was a festival of sorts going on in downtown Rock Island that weekend…Jamaica-My-Weekend . We were down there walking around after weigh-ins and Bub started hitting me saying “ Mom, Mom…do you see who that is? Mom…look…it’s Jimmy Kennedy.” We actually said “hi” to him!! It was as if we were is the presence of someone God-like. I mean, this was JIMMY KENNEDY!! He had not only won state tournaments but he had won National Tournaments, as far as we were concerned, a million of them, something we couldn’t afford to go to. Seriously…this was JIMMY KENNEDY!! We saw him at the tournament the next day and his bag had all kinds of tags on it from, we assumed, flights all over the country, maybe even the world, to wrestle. I ended up meeting his dad “outside”. We talked, and Big Jim Kennedy had Jimmy talk to Clayton. Clayton was in awe!! So was I. What a nice, polite little boy who turned into a nice polite young man. And Big Jim Kennedy…yep, we continued to meet “outside” at most state tournaments all through IKWF and high school. I actually met some really incredible people “outside”.
One year at the Kid’s Open, Clayton wrestled Matt McNaughton. It wasn’t going to bad until the 3rdnd period. Matt somehow put Bub in this move, this position I had never seen. He was in this “position” for the entire period. Having never wrestled, I, as his coach, had to find out how to counter this move. Well, I was told in no uncertain terms that the only counter to a spladle was NOT to get in one! He was lucky he didn’t get pinned…
Speaking of the Kids Open, I remember the first time Clayton wrestled there. Holy cow! It was huge. And close to home, 45 minutes away in Moline at the Mark. Bub cried through his entire first match. Seriously, how do you expect a 4 year old to wrestle with no coach or parent even remotely close? It was maybe one of the most emotional points of his wrestling career, at least for me. Ok…maybe not, but it was bad. He lost that match to Daron Fuglasang from Maquoketa. His older brother, it would turn out, was a wrestler for Coe. He was one of their 125 pounders and graduated the year before Clayton started there. Small world.
This one’s short. We were in Metamora one year and 3, yes 3 boys broke their arms in one day AND all on the same mat. I was really nervous when they called Clayton to that very mat after 2 boys had already broken their arms on it. I’m not usually superstitious but after they stopped Clayton’s match and the 3rd little boy broke his arm, I guess I became somewhat of a believer. We felt terrible. It was the other little boy.
Bumping..always bumping weight or age or both. Bubba bumped up from the junior division to the novice division his 4th grade year (1999). He was 10. He wanted to qualify for state and GET A COAT!! Isn’t that why every little boy wanted to qualify? We still have that coat. It became the "patch " coat, with every qualifying patch sewn on it.
Clayton Rush (L) models the IKWF Coat
He was at 62 Novice. The smallest weight. And they couldn’t be more than 5 pounds under that., which meant 57 pounds. Bub weighed a whole 55 pounds soaking wet, so he drank. He drank and drank, and drank. He “made weight” at 58 pounds. He didn’t win a match. Had Matt McNaughton first round. Heck…maybe that’s where the spladle happened. Bub lost and didn’t have a wrestle back. Timmy Haneburg won it that year. Scotty Horcher got 2nd and Tommy Gagen got 3rd. They were mostly 6th graders. They were mostly awesome! So…the next year Clayton was actually a true 62 pound novice weighing 58 natural pounds. (he only gained about 2 pounds a year for the longest time!) His goal…win the whole thing. My goal…win one match!! Clayton won his sectional, BUT Kyle Hutter wrestled into him. Not good. But I was proud of Bubba. He only lost 6-5. He lost his wrestle back match, too. We went off our game and didn't "play takedown". My goal…still not met. His goal…not even close. Johnny Starzyk won that bracket that year. Matt McNaughton got 2nd and Kyle got 3rd. That seemed to be a turning point for the “Chicago Boys” for some reason. I guess they decided that since Clayton wrestled Kyle so close, he was okay. I’ll never forget Bubba coming up to me, all smiles and saying “I’m going to go hang with these guys for awhile.” It was Johnny and Kyle. I sat with Johnny just last year at the Desert Duals and we watched Clayton wrestle Jake Oster.
My goal was finally met in 2001. He not only won a match but Clayton placed - 3rd! Of course his goal was NOT met. It was to “win the whole thing”… Mike McCauliffe from Tinley Park won it. Dang Chicago clubs anyway! The following year was different. He was in the Senior division…70 senior. The lowest weight class in that division. And yep…he weighed all of 65 pounds. BUT, he made the finals and I, yes, me, Gail Rush from “where’s Aledo” got to walk the walk!! And to those wondering, yes, I wore a dress!! He lost to Mike McCauliffe, darn Chicago clubs anyway, but it was amazing. AND we got to walk the walk again the following year…I DId wear another dress, and he was at , hold on to your hats…79 senior!! He lost to Vinnie Alber from Dakota. At least it wasn’t a darn Chicago club!! We actually went on to become good friends with the Albers. Bub went to the Disney Duals with Dakota in high school, but that’s a whole different chapter…
Clayton Rush ready to pin for the Pinners club
I could actually write a book on the IKWF years. The split -IWF/IKWF - I'll let Andre talk about that. Ethan Ball - we took E with us everywhere. Tyler Clark - dang we saw a lot of that kid. Every weekend. Up until Clayton’s freshman year, Tyler had only beaten him twice…wish he’d have stuck around in Illinois one more year. All the wonderful people across our great state. The first State Tournament after the “split”. State down south. State up north. Jim Didi. Mike Urwin.
And I CANNOT leave out Iowa. We spent the first few months every year wrestling at tournaments in Iowa. Every small town in Iowa has tough wrestlers…at every age. Amazing, amazing years. Mostly, I miss the friends we’d made…missed seeing them every Sunday. Clayton…he was just starting…
Nationals and the Civil War by Andre’ Morgan
In 1997 at nine years old Mario was introduced to the national tournament scene. One day I was at Twister practice and Casio Pero’s Dad, Leonard told me he was going to the National Championship with his son Casio and another solid wrestler Charles Lloyd. They were older and both had won the state championship the previous week. Pero was also the Tulsa national champ that year. These kids were national tournament veterans and we were honored to be asked to join them. This national championship intrigued me, especially when I found out that there was no qualifier, you could just sign up and go. I had one week to convince Mario to go and two weeks to prepare (and find the money) to go.
Mario was easy to sway. In those early days, he had no fears. After beating Schemeski the year before he thought he could whip the world. One thing I loved about him as a kid, I could tell him he couldn’t do something or couldn’t obtain a goal and he had to prove me wrong. I told him we could go to this national tournament but he would be lucky to win a match. He was ready from that challenge. It was all he talked about day and night until we hit the state of Kansas.
This was the first tournament I was introduced to extreme weight cutting. At the scale eating Now and Later candies so he would not pass out was Michael Grey from New Jersey. He was the favorite, looked like a skinny pale ghost and rumors at the scale were rampant that he had cut over 20 pounds. He had over 60 wins on the season and that needed to be respected more than how much he weighed. This was an ungodly number of wins to us and I tried to not think about Mario’s 34-win season compared to this seemly man-child wrestler.
The first match in the 50-pound bracket pitted Mario against a girl. I walked up to the scorer’s table, looked at her, looked at Mario and walked away without saying a word. He knew as a Twister there was no way he could return to Harvey with a loss in the first round to a girl. While it might sound sexist, it was the reality of the situation. Mario pinned her within the first period with a nearside cradle. His only loss in the tournament was to Grey in the semi finals and the match was close, 5-3. They would meet many years later again for higher stakes, a berth in the 2006 NHSCA Senior Nationals finals.
In his first nationals, Mario went on to record three pins, beat the Missouri state champ Eric Graham twice, winning the second match in overtime 7-5 to capture the Bronze medal. En route to the podium Mario also beat the Iowa State champ and the Missouri state runner up. He finished the year 34-4 and was an All American.
Morgan faces Missouri state Champ Eric Graham
Once we started to go to national tournaments the names on the bracket sheets began to tell the tale of wrestling future greats like Mike Grey, Eric Graham, Scotty O’Donnell, Lance Palmer, Todd Scharvrien and future Olympic gold medal winner, Henry Cejudo.
However, back home, Illinois kids wrestling had trouble brewing as a rift was developing between the high school coaches and the kids programs. The debate over freestyle Greco control spilled over to a real life Civil War. By 1998, the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation was split. Some teams sided with the Illinois Wrestling Federation (IWF), which was really the Team Illinois the USA Wrestling backed coaches that ran the off-season. Other teams sided with the more established and larger Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation (IKWF), which since the early 1970’s had pioneered kids wrestling in Illinois. In addition, just to add to the confusion the smaller Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) was also in the mix drawing kids that wanted to wrestle for their grammar or junior high schools.
Mario Morgan getting ready to wrestle at the state tournament
Much debate, name-calling and general hatred was spewed all around. This split or Civil War coincided with the explosion of the Internet and personal computing. At first in 1998 USA Wrestling sided with the IWF. The next year they switched gears and gave there much sought after charter to the IKWF. Caught in the middle of all of this were the kids.
Following his all American performance in 1997 Mario produced a stellar season for the Twisters in 1998, going 32 and 8, advancing through the IWF Regional, Sectional and State tournament to the finals. Awaiting Mario in the state finals was the Wrestling Factory’s Jimmy Kennedy. Although we knew little of who he was at the time, he was legendary. Kennedy, extremely muscular at this early age, had already won Tulsa, Reno and USA national titles and was poised to become a WOW Triple Crown winner that year. He was just passing through the state finals. I will never forget when they announced the finalist at Northern Illinois that year and it went something like this, “From the Harvey Twisters with a record of 32 and 8, Mario Morgan” and “from the Wrestling Factory with an UNDEFEATED record of 55 and 0, Jimmy Kennedy.” My wife, a normally quiet woman as female wrestling fans go, is heard screaming on the highlight tape, “OH no, what did they say, 55 and 0, he’s not wrestling my baby.” Well mama, yes he is. Pray!
Once the match starts the first period was decent for Mario. He held his own and even scored a debatable takedown near the edge as time ran out. After that Kennedy proceeded to show the benefits of a solid national schedule and what an undefeated wrestler can make you look like. In the end, Kennedy dominated the match and the lesson was, if you want to be elite you have to do even more than what you are doing. I’ll never forget our Twister Head Coach Quintroy Harrell saying as we walked away from the podium, “It will be interesting to see if we can catch up.” The next year the Wrestling Factory left the IWF for the IKWF and the Twisters remained. There would be no chance on the kids level to see. Nevertheless, from that moment on Kennedy became the wrestler as coaches we compared our progress to. Much like Mike Grey, Mario would get another chance year’s later wrestling Jimmy Kennedy in their senior year at the state tournament. Mario three weeks later garnered another All American status at USA Wrestling Nationals with a 6th place finish at 58 pounds.
NEXT; Finally a State Champ
Last edited by MR TWISTER; 11-16-2010 at 09:14 AM.
I am loving this! What a great, GREAT journey it has been. So many stories....
"Boys freestyle. Real men Greco."