SPRINGFIELD • Four years ago, Mikey Caliendo’s father received a text message from Batavia coach Tom Arlis congratulating his son on an outstanding I.K.W.F. career. In that same text, Arlis stated that if Mikey stayed and wrestled at Batavia High School, instead of following the private-school recruiting path, he promised that his son would be Batavia’s first state champion. Four years later, Mr. Caliendo sent a screen shot of that very text back to coach Arlis after his son dominated the I.W.C.O.A. 3A Individual State Championships in the 160-pound field to become Batavia’s first state champion.
In speaking about Caliendo’s championship and what it means, Head Coach Scott Bayer reflected on the journey. “It started with a family that committed to the Batavia wrestling family,” Bayer said of his senior state champion. “He could have gone to any school, but one of his goals was to be Batavia’s first state champion. His dad is tremendously loyal to the Batavia Wrestling Club. Mikey’s journey started with our club coach, Coach Steve Zimmerman—one of the best club coaches in the state—and Mikey’s been super driven since I can remember him back in grade school, always wrestling in big matches and thriving in that environment.”
Caliendo, who capped off a 38-0 season Saturday at the Bank of Springfield Center, opened up his title run with two first-period falls. In his opening round, he would pin Patrick Downing of Glenbrook South in 1:52, and in his quarterfinal match-up with Colin Kelly of Chicago Mt. Carmel, Caliendo would need eight more seconds in the first period to score his second fall at 2:00.
In the semifinals, Caliendo would need to go the distance against Carl Sandburg’s Zach Bateman, but he would win it with a convincing 14-4 major decision. Now in the finals, Caliendo was focused on one more match—a championship match, and a match he was confident in.
“I knew that my hand fighting would open up my offense,” Caliendo said of his two opening-period takedowns and 4-1 lead over Jack McClimon of Minooka heading into the second period of the title bout. “If I can be dominant in my hand fighting, then I can be dominant in the neutral position.” However, in the second period, Caliendo would not show dominance on his feet. Instead, he would display his strength in the top position as he rode out McClimon for the entire period to maintain his three-point lead.
In the third period, Caliendo would choose down, escape, and then work back into his hand fighting as he opened the match up with five points in the opening thirty-once seconds. With a now 9-1 lead, and the match in hand, Caliendo was in full control of the apparent outcome. But Caliendo was not satisfied, he wanted more.
“I’m not trying to win [matches] by small margins,” Caliendo said of adding to his lead with three more takedowns to close out the match after having an eight-point lead. “I’m trying to prove to myselfthat I’m the most dominant wrestler in the state.” The final score would reflect Caliendo’s point by way of a 15-4 major decision and a grateful embrace with his coaches.
In response to what it means for him to be Batavia’s first state champion, Caliendo was humble and quick to mention those who have made it all possible. “It is really special to me,” Caliendo explained. “My corner coach, Logan Arlis, was a state runner-up and it means a lot to me and him to get this done. Without him, I would definitely not be where I am. He’s a great practice partner—he’s the only one in the room that can push me—and he pushes me.”
Bayer echoed Caliendo’s sentiments on the importance of Arlis and what he brought to his senior’s development. “Logan was as good a wrestler as we’ve ever had at Batavia,” Bayer stated, “and Mikey sets goals for himself. One of those goals was to be better than Logan—and Logan wanted that for him and would dangle that in front of him. Logan is so selfless of his time and will grind himself into the ground to work with Mikey every day in practice. He understands what it means to give back, and he gives his heart and soul to Mikey. To see Logan come back and invest all this time and help make him what he is, is really special.”
In the previous two seasons, Caliendo had placed fourth at the state championships, but he knew that if he was going to reach his goals, he would need to do more. “The difference between last year and this year,” Caliendo said, “was putting in the extra work—the wrestling doesn’t lie—and that’s what I did this summer. I worked through a lot of practices and, in my free time, I was grinding. I was getting better.”
And when Caliendo returned to the Batavia room, it was clear that he was better. “He made big jumps over the quarantine and with his coach, Logan Arlis,” Bayer commented as to the growth and development of Caliendo. “He’s gotten better every year. And in this pandemic, guys had choices to either hunker down and do the bare minimum or do what Mikey did, which was seeking out the best competition he could. He traveled all over the country and beat some top-ranked competition, seeing that competition each weekend put him on a different level. And when he came back and walked into our room, we knew something had changed.”
With a state champion in the program, and Batavia wrestlers being able to see that it can be done in a bulldog singlet, Bayer hopes his program can take this moment and use it to motivate others. “It took 63 years and a hundred-year pandemic,” Bayer smirked, “but he got [the state championship] for us, and I hope it opens the floodgates.