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Old 01-31-2013
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Roots of Success: Part 2

Illinois Matmen

What are the ingredients of a successful program? That's a question that I've been fascinated with during a career spanning over a quarter century as a sportswriter.

There are obviously plenty, including the ability of the athletes, the quality of a staff, the strength of competition and the support of the school and community.

But nothing puts the stamp on a program's identity more than that of its head coach. And it's the influences that shaped those head coaches that most intrigues me.

That's my motivation behind this two-part series that I've called 'Roots of Success'. I've asked coaches statewide to talk about people who've influenced them most.

I contacted coaches whose teams were ranked, won tournaments this season, won regionals last year, have recently taken teams to state or have distinguished careers.

A total of 47 coaches responded to our request and I've split that up into two parts, with the coaches from A to K running first and the L to Z coaches going next.

I got some fascinating responses, many featuring individuals I know well or have seen through the years, others mentioning individuals that I wasn't familiar with.

And that was really the whole purpose of this. I wanted to show how a coach or individual in one part of the state had a great influence over athletes in another.

The bonus is that it also serves as a history lesson for the sport. Hopefully those who are interested will try to find out more about a few of these individuals.

I want to thank the coaches who helped us with this and I can tell that it meant a lot to them. That's why I'm done writing. What follows are the coach's comments.

Jon Lanning, Morris

This is my third year as head coach. I was an assistant for nine years at Morris and Bolingbrook,

I wrestled at Morris for Coach George Dergo, who is the current athletic director there. Coach Dergo pulled me from the hallways while I was in high school to give wrestling a try and I fell in love with the sport, wrestling pretty much year round from my sophomore year in high school on. He taught me the value of hard work, discipline, and believing I can do anything I wanted, along with my parents Bill and Doris Lanning.

My mom and dad and Coach Dergo ran me all over the state for offseason wrestling tournaments in my quest to qualify for the Junior National Team that wrestled in Fargo and was also lucky enough to win a spot on the Junior National Dual Team that wrestled at SIUE. I am so thankful I got to have those experiences and met a lot of new people and coaches, like Coach Healy at Providence, who coached me at Fargo and a lot of my future teammates at the University of Illinois.

While at U of I I wrestled for three great coaches. They were head coach Mark Johnson, current head coach at the U of I, Jim Heffernan, and current Elmhurst College head coach Steve Marianetti, all of which molded me into the man I have become today. I picked up many new ideas and ways of coaching. I used to pick their brains about the sport as I knew I wanted to be a teacher and a wrestling coach.

I love giving back to the sport that I love. It has its frustrating days when student athletes do not give you 100 percent everyday but when you get the kid standing on the podium at the end of the season in Champaign that is a great feeling and reenergizes you for the next offseason and the season ahead.

Rob Ledin, Mahomet-Seymour

I wrestled at St. Laurence and then at Illinois State University for my whole freshman year (1985-86). I red-shirted my sophomore year and was injured (shoulder) my junior year. At that point I decided to complete my degree and move on with my life with the goal of teaching and coaching.

I have been a head coach for 17 years (8 at Clinton, 2 at Morton and the last 7 at Mahomet-Seymour) and an assistant for three years prior to that (2 at Hinsdale South and 1 at Normal Community).

I would be glad to talk about the influences in my life. First and foremost are my parents. Like all kids who start out in wrestling, their Mom (Susan Gianakopoulos) and Dad (Don) was the support system. Mom was there screaming and yelling and in most cases yelling real wrestling moves.

My Dad (Don Ledin, Hall of Fame coach from Mendel) was the one who showed me wrestling. He married my mother when I was five years old. He adopted me not long after that. He brought me to Marquette Park in the Chicago Park District when I was just eight years old and rest is history.

He helped coach me when I wrestled for the Vittum Viking Wrestling Club and would often help out doing clinics while I attended St. Laurence. Summers were spent traveling the nation going to tournaments.

Robert Trombetta was my high school coach. He showed me what it took to make a team a brotherhood. He may not have been the most technical coach but we never questioned his love for us. I distinctly remember him hugging me and telling me how proud he was of me after winning the Chicago Catholic League Tournament my senior year in 1985.

Those three people are the foundation of why I chose to wrestle, become a teacher and a coach.

Brian Lee, Litchfield

I wrestled at PORTA from 1981-1984 and also at Illinois College in the early 90's. I coached at Illinois College as an assistant for eight years and after that went home to Petersburg and coached with Jeff Hill at PORTA for four years until 2002 when I took the job here at Litchfield.

My biggest influence in the beginning was Rex Avery. (Rex started the wrestling programs at PORTA, Sandwich, and Somonauk, I believe). Rex got me into wrestling as a 6th grader. I didn't know anything about wrestling then. He moved on and Mike Johnson became the head coach.

Coach Johnson taught me a great work ethic and what it took to be successful in all aspects of life. He took us to offseason tournaments (they were just in the beginning then) to make sure we were getting extra time in when it counted.

My college coach was Tom Rowland. He was the one and only coach at Illinois College. He taught me the science of how to run a program which I use today. His biggest influence is that when you are a coach, you are a teacher and you will have an effect on each and every student athlete that goes through your program, win or lose.

Coach Rowland was a good role model for me as he brought his program to a top ten nationally-ranked team in the 90's. I was there to help build that with him and use the philosophies he instilled then, yet today. Thanks a lot.

Justen Lehr, Crystal Lake Central

I wrestled at Harvard and have been a head wrestling coach for 8 years. I was at Aurora Central Catholic for three years and have been at at Crystal Lake Central the last five.

My biggest influence is Coach Tim Haak. I wrestled, played football and baseball for Coach Haak. When I was a kid growing up in Harvard I had many of the same aspirations as other students.

The biggest for me, was to be able to compete on the varsity wrestling team and wrestle for Coach Haak. It wasnít until later in my high school career that I realized I wanted to be a teacher and coach.

Coach Haak inspired me to be a coach and teacher through his leadership and ability to create lasting relationships. He was a great motivator for a great number of young men.

I can only hope to be as successful as Coach was with shaping young menís lives and making champions on and off the mat.

Dan Manzella, St. Rita

I wrestled for the Vittum Cats in grade school, St. Rita in high school, and the University of Illinois in college. I served one year as an assistant and the last five years as head coach.

The two most influential coaches in my career are Jimmy Brasher of the Vittum Cats and Dan Carroll of St. Rita.

My first year wrestling was Jimmy's first year coaching so we kind of gravitated to each other. He was much more than a coach. He was my friend and my role model. I wanted to be just like him.

He taught me that coaching is much more than technique and conditioning, it's also morals, principles and trust. He taught me that your athletes needs to know that you love them and that they can count on you for anything.

Jimmy ended up being my confirmation sponsor in 8th grade. His family has welcomed me as one of their own and vice versa. He has been, and always will be my "go to" for life's queries.

Coach Carroll is simply the most interesting man I have ever met. He is ultra intelligent yet extremely relatable at the same time. No matter what he was saying to me, I always understood what he meant. I never had to decipher meaning.

He is the toughest coach I've ever had. And he is still tough on me to this day. As a wrestler he wouldn't allow anything less than all I had. Now, as an adult, he still has the same expectation. As a coach he is my consigliere.

I go to him for all things wrestling. And as frustrating as it can be for me, he has yet to be wrong about anything. He just knows the sport, the kids, and how to win.

He is also one of the most loyal men I have ever met. And I haven't met too many men that command as much loyalty than he does. Anyone that has wrestled for him, would do anything he asked at the drop of a hat. He's been a coach, colleague, mentor and father figure to me.

Israel Martinez, Montini

I was a 5x IKWF State Champion (East Aurora Tomcats), 3x IHSA State Champion (West Aurora) and NJCAA National Champion (North Idaho College).

This is my third season as Head Coach at Montini Catholic and I'm also Head Coach at the Izzy Style School of Wrestling.

My main influences in wrestling have been my Dad, Jose Martinez, and my predecessor at Montini Catholic, Mike Bukovsky. Both my Dad and Coach Bu's influence is immeasurable.

My Dad showed me (and continues to show me) how hard you need to work to be successful at this sport. My brother and I noticed success because of how hard our Dad worked us over the years. The same goes for coaching.

The harder you work, the more success you notice. My Dad continues to work hard with his club, and my coaching mentor, Mike Bukovsky, worked as hard as anyone for many years to build Montini to a national level program.

He showed me what it takes to run a successful program and I am trying every day to live up to the bar he set. Outside of wrestling, Coach Bukovsky also taught me a lot about life. How to deal with people. How to handle adversity. How to surround yourself with good people.

Mark Masters, Coal City

I got my start in wrestling at Providence Catholic in 1984-85. Mike Polz was my football coach and PE teacher and Tim Ruettiger was my PE teacher. Both were tough nose guys like my dad. Both were intense and expected excellence from all of us whether it was in school, football field or mat.

Losing was never acceptable at anything. I wanted to be just like them and it didn't take much convincing to get me to go out for wrestling. I didn't want to disappoint either one of them.

You never had to guess where you stood with them. Lines of communication were always open - not always positive but they were open. I am who I am today because of teachers and coaches like these men and they inspired me to try and guide high school kids through life's experiences.

my wrestling career was very short. I went out as a freshman with no experience. during the first week of practice - I broke my ankle - season over. My sophomore season was identical except I broke the same ankle during the second week of practice - career over.

I Concentrated on football and track from there on out but was always around wrestling because of my friends. I started coaching with Brett Porter in 1995 in Coal City as his assistant through 1999. I became the head coach from 1999-2003.

I then switched coaching positions with my PCHS classmate Scott Richardson from 2003-06 and I returned to head coaching the fall of '06 when Scott left for Shepard.

Lee Mateer, Taylorville

I wrestled at Taylorville (class of '99) and attended college at Millikin University (class of '03) where I played football. I have been coaching wrestling since 2007 here at Taylorville. I started as an assistant to Don Beetem (now assistant coach) until I became head coach in 2010. I am currently in my third season as head coach.

My first year, we went 20-3 (first 20-win season) and had our school's 2nd-ever state qualifier (the first came during my first season as assistant coach in 2007-2008). My second year, we were 18-2 and won our school's first-ever team regional championship (the program has been in existence since 1968). This year we are ranked in the top 25 in Class AA.

Person #1 is my Mom. My mother is probably the first and foremost person of great influence in my wrestler career. If it weren't for her persistence when I was in high school, I wouldn't be involved in the sport today. I went out for wrestling as a 'fat' little freshman wanting to stay in shape for football and I got the heck beat out of me.

Because of how low our participation numbers where at the time, we didn't have alot of big guys. I was a 180 pound first-year guy who was forced to wrestle up to heavyweight. I was getting my head kicked in on a daily basis. I think I only won one match the entire year. I remember dreading going to practice and thinking to myself how much I hated it.

I would come home, sit down in the kitchen and tell my mother that I wanted to quit. However, mom had a rule: "Once you start something, you finish it,..we don't quit." So I finished the season out with a constant reminder to my mother that my first year wrestling would be my last. A year came and went and I was now a Sophomore.

Football season was over and one day mom came in and asked me if I was wrestling this season. I told her "no" and stated that I didn't care for it. She immediately became furious with me and stated all of the reason's I should wrestle and why it was good for me. I listened, however, still refused. She didn't speak to me all night.

The next day, I came home to find surprisingly find my mother waiting for me. Normally she was at work during this time of the day but for some reason she was home. I entered the front door and was met with her standing there. She told me she had a gift for me in my bedroom. Very puzzled and worried, I entered my bedroom to find a brand new Asics box, in it a brand new pair of wrestling shoes.

She told me to "get dressed, get your new wrestling shoes, and get in the car. I am taking you to wrestling practice and if you would like to be fed and taken care of for the remainder of your adolescence, you will not give me any resistance." I didn't say a word and I did as my mother had told me. You see, my mom had grown to intensely love the sport of wrestling my first year and she saw the value it had for me and my future.

That year, I had more success and started to enjoy myself. By the time I graduated high school, I was a 30-win wrestler and had fallen in love with the sport just as intensely as my mother had. My mom saw a great deal of positive things the sport had to teach me: hard work, mental and physical toughness, persistence, dedication, responsibility, and accountability.

Without her persistence and foresight, I would have missed out on the greatest sport and life lesson of my entire life and would have never have fallen in love with our great sport. Just this past year, I was inducted into my college's athletic hall of fame for my achievements in football. When I gave my acceptance speech, I told this story because it did have such a profound impact on who I am today. Thanks mom. I love you.

Person #2 is my Wife. My wife and I are high school sweethearts. We started dating during my Junior year (1997) of high school and dated all through college until we were married in 2003. All through high school, she never once missed a football game or wrestling meet. She was always there cheering me on from the stands and showing her support. She was always the first to greet me after all of my games and matches.

She would deal gracefully with all the emotions that come with dating an athlete. Still, she came every time. Always there. She became my rock and a person that I can always count on. This year we will be celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary and we will be having our second set of twins! Still, she is at every football game and never misses a meet. Heck, even this year, she started doing some record book keeping during some meets.

Without her and her support, I would not be doing what I am doing today. It is because of her that I feel as though I am the luckiest man on earth.

Person #3 is Chuck Hansen. Coach Hansen is the former head coach at Glenbrook North (I think he taught/coached for over 40 years). Coach Hansen is a member of the IWCOA Hall of Fame. During his coaching career, he has coached several state qualifiers and I do believe he was the high school coach of Steve Marianetti.

After Coach Hansen retired from Glenbrook North, he moved to Taylorville of all places. During his retirement, he stayed active in coaching helping with the football and wrestling programs. This is where I met Coach Hansen. He was one of my coaches on the football team while I was in High School and he had a profound impact on me when I was young.

He is an excellent mentor and a great man. He taught us the importance of being tough and working hard. He is exactly the person I want to be like and emulate. He and his wife Judy have been very supportive of me and my career endeavors ever since I moved back to Taylorville after college. During our summer wrestling camp, and even with his health in decline at times, Coach Hansen still finds the energy and passion to be a guest instructor every year.

He is a great mentor and leader and it his difficult for me to express my gratitude towards this man. During my early coaching years as an assistant, I had the great opportunity of working with him and I will always value that time. He was always more than willing to give advice and feedback and for a young coach, such as myself, that time will be invaluable to me. If I am half as good as that man, then I will feel like I am accomplishing something.

Kevin Milder, Lena-Winslow/Stockton

This is my 19th year as head coach. I am originally from Iowa, wrestling for Clinton High School. I graduated from there in 1989.

My high school coach was Bob Lueders, and he was probably the most influential person for me as a wrestler. He taught me everything I needed to know to succeed in wrestling.

He believed in a strong work ethic, staying tough and strong in any situation, and to never quit. He felt that by working hard you could overcome almost any obstacle.

Those lessons are just as true in life as they are on the wrestling mat. He was a man that always had time for you when you needed something. I am very proud to say I wrestled for Coach Bob Lueders and the Clinton wrestling program.

Being able to practice and learn from some great wrestlers, such as, four-time undefeated state champ Dan Knight, helped me become a better wrestler, person and coach.

Andy Moore, Monticello

I have been the head coach for six years and was the assistant for two years before then.

I wrestled at Argenta-Oreana from 1994-97 under Gary Cook. My two main influences in the sport of wrestling would be Gary Osterhoff and Gary Cook.

Gary Osterhoff ran the kids club in Argenta and thatís what got me started with the sport. I remember the long days of travel and competition, and all the time he put into getting us started.

Coming up through the kids club, I always looked forward to being able to wrestle for Coach Cook. Coach Cook ran a program that promoted leadership, teamwork and hard work.

It was those qualities that got me through so many challenges throughout my life, both in high school and the years that followed.

Ben Morris, Prairie Central

I wrestled at Fenton from 1984-87 and was State Champ in 1987 at 112 pounds. I wrestled in college at the University of Minnesota from 1987-92 and was a National Qualifier in 1990.

I've been a coach for 20 years and am currently at Prairie Central. My influences have been innumerable. Dozens of people had a positive influence on me as I came up through high school and college.

Wrestling put me around a better class of people than I would have been exposed to if I had not wrestled. I will name a few specifically that stand out in my mind today.

First are my Junior High Coaches, Brad Perry and Rod Lott. Coach Lott was the first person to tell me I had potential. Because of them, I caught up to or passed up a lot of kids that had been wrestling since grade school.

Second is my high school coach, Steve Weiss. Coach Weiss was a calm, rational, guy. That worked for me better than I think a tough coach would have at that time in my life. I had enough chaos already.

He provided stability. He mentored me when I made mistakes and did the wrong things, but he never screamed or lost his cool.

Rob Murphy, Wilmington

I've been the head coach at Wilmington for the past 18 years

I graduated from Coal City where I wrestled for George Dare (IWCOA HOF) and Fred Plese. They got me interested in teaching and coaching as a career.

Then I attended Joliet Junior College and wrestled for Henry Pillard (IWCOA HOF) and George Bean. They helped me focus on my college career and got interested in Freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling.

I graduated from Olivet Nazarene University and wrestled for Bob Drebenstedt, who taught me how to manage a team.

And I was an assistant coach at Lincoln under head coach Floyd Bee (IWCOA HOF) Helped mold and shape my coaching philosophy.

Pat O'Connell, Joliet Central

I graduated from Joliet East and Millikin University and have been coaching for the past 30 years. This is my third year and final year as head coach at Joliet Central.

I was an assistant Wrestling Coach for 27 years, two years at Joliet East under Sam Parker and 25 years Joliet Central under Mac McLaughlin.

My older brother Dale O'Connell was head wrestling coach at Joliet Catholic in the 70's. He started me in grade school tournaments in the Joliet area (No organized teams at that point). Hank Pillard started alot of those tournaments.

My high school coach was Ron Larsen. Sam Parker and Mac McLaughlin both taught me tons about the sport and dealing with kids. Another big influence on Joliet wrestling was a guy named Harry Hohiesel.

Rob Porter, Naperville Central

I wrestled at Mahomet-Seymour High School and Edinboro and I have been the head coach at Mahomet-Seymour, Crook County Oregon, and Naperville Central, where I am currently located.

Tom Porter, my dad, had the biggest influence on me. When I was born, dad was coaching at Prospect which he left to take the head coaching job at Hersey. He won two state championships there (1971 and 1972).

We moved to Champaign when I was seven so that dad could become the head wrestling coach at the University of Illinois in 1974. I remember hanging around the high school and college wrestlers throughout my childhood.

Wrestling has always been an important part of my life. Dad created an family atmosphere within the wrestling community.

My brother and I were both coached by the best technicians in the country through my dadís summer camps and his influence on our wrestling teams and clubs.

Mike Powell, Oak Park and River Forest

I graduated from OPRF in 1994 and from Indiana University in 1999. I've been the head coach at OPRF since 2004-05 and was an assistant from 1999-2004.

It is my firm belief that "it takes a village" for many young men. My parents were outstanding but needed help in guiding me into success and out of self-destruction.

Three men that were and continue to be instrumental parts of my life are Fred Arkin (my first wrestling coach), Norm Parker (my head coach in HS), and Niall Collins (assistant when I was in high school and Head coach for the first part of my tenure).

I love these men like family and appreciate everything they have done for me and so many others. I live my life with the goal of affecting as much positive change in this world as they have.

After my father, these are the men I go to for advice and guidance when I am being man enough to admit I need it!

Fred Arkin has an emotional intelligence that is off the charts. He was my first coach and I have yet to meet his equal in being able to help young men psychologically and emotionally. These are hugely underrated parts of our sport.

To this day, Fred sets me straight and calls me on my bologna. He is now a freshman coach in our program and the head of our Huskie Wrestling Family. Without Fred, I do not know where I would be...

Norm Parker taught me about unconditional love. In particular, unconditional love for someone he was not related to! Norm, a killer on the mat, is amongst the kindest souls I know.

He is truly a gentle warrior. If someday I build to posses half the moral strength as Norm, I am doing alright. Norm is my hero.

Niall Collins is my second father and has been for many young men. An ex-wrestler of his named his first born son Niall (kid better be tough or he's going to get it on the playground). Niall views right and wrong in black and white.

He has helped me time and again decrease the gray areas of life and see things clearly. Niall taught me how to deal with adversity, how to run a program, how to keep things simple, and how to be satisfied.

Jayson Querciagrossa, Peoria Central

My wrestling background started as a young child. My father was a high school wrestling coach at Peoria Woodruff (Coach Q) James Querciagrossa. I wrestled for Woodruff from 1988-1992 where I became an All stater placing 4th in the IHSA AA #140 ,record 144/18/1.

I also wrestled for SIUE from 1992-1996 and was a 2x NCAA II qualifier and NCAA II All American in 1996 at #142. My coaching career started in the Edwardsville Jr. High and IKWF program from 1996-1998. The next stop was East Peoria JV Coach from 1998-2000.

In 2000 I became the head Wrestling Coach for Woodruff, which closed in 2010. Currently I'm the Head Wrestling Coach at Peoria High from 2010 to the present.

My influence was my Father Coach Q (James Querciagrossa), who in 24 years Coaching at Woodruff had 23 winning seasons, a 303-102-6 coaching record, four IHSA Regional Team titles, was second in Sectionals in 1973. Coach Q is also in the IWCOA Hall of Fame.

My other influence was my SIUE coach Larry Kristoff. He started the SIUE program in 1969. He was in nine World Games and his teams won NCAA II team title twice and placed high many times. Larry had many All American D I and II- also many NCAA II Champs. He is in the National Wrestling Hall of fame.

John St. Clair, Lemont

I have been coaching wrestling for 16 years, the first five as an assistant at Marian Catholic and then a year as an assistant at Joliet Catholic and the rest have been spent coaching at Lemont, one of those being as assistant and the rest as head coach.

What the four men I'll speak about taught me gets passed on to every wrestler that I coach. I'll start by talking about my kids club coaches, John Chiaroda and Mike Griffen. Both of these men had a huge impact on my wrestling career.

John was the technician and Mike was the person who pushed us to be tough. I wrestled for the Rich Wrestling Club and we practiced at Rich East. Back then we had a full room of kids that went to Marian, all three Rich schools, Bloom and a few that went to Providence and Marist.

Every practice was run like a high school practice with tough drilling and conditioning with excellent technique sessions. Back then we would have kids from other clubs come to wrestle with us, because we had tough kids at about every weight.

John and Mike taught us how to be good, tough, hard-nosed wrestlers, but also the life lessons that you can learn from competing in wrestling. I am forever in their debt for what they taught me at a young age.

My high school Coaches were Bob Bergstrom and Don McKillip. They were also influential for me to this day. Bob was a good coach and a student of the sport. He would bring in tapes of college matches for us to watch before there was Flo and Youtube because he wanted us to see what high level wrestling was all about.

Bob was the wrestling coach at Marian Catholic for many years when it was mainly a football school, and coached many state qualifiers in his tenure as head coach. My senior year was his last year as head coach and I am deeply grateful for the four years I spent wrestling for Bob.

As soon as I graduated I began coaching at my alma mata with the new head coach Don McKillip. He taught me how to run a practice and build a program. He coached the team to its first regional title and the school's first state champion, Mickey Griffen, Mike's son, and my teammate at Rich Wrestling.

I still use many of the techniques and drills that we used back at Marian in the late 90's to train my kids at Lemont. I am very happy that I still have relationships with each of these four men to this day.

Al Sears, Belleville West

I wrestled at Wheaton Central and SIU-Edwardsville and have been the head coach at Belleville West for 12 years.

Ed Ewoldt taught me to love and respect the greatest sport of all. Ed was and is all about wrestling and I was lucky enough to have his influence and love of the sport passed down to me!

He would always let me know where the next freestyle summer tournament was and would even pick me up and take me. He also mentored me off the mat by keeping me in line at school! I can never repay Ed for all his help and support during my high School years at Wheaton Central!

John Fuller, my coach at Wheaton Central, was a fierce competitor and a fitness freak. He showed the wrestlers at Wheaton Central what had to be done to prepare to compete in the toughest sport of them all. His no BS approach to this sport gave us the self confidence to do great things on the mat!

Larry Kristoff was a man's man whose wrestlers did not want to let him down! He insisted on the highest level of competition by scheduling the best teams in the country. Had the toughest room and knew exactlly how to peak a team at the perfect time! Larry had the best eye for talent and the patience and could pull it out of each of his kids!

Larry was a father figure to us all and would always be there for you but would let you have it if you screwed up! Larry knew everyone in the sport and it was not uncommon for Olympic and World Champions to walk in our room at SIUE to practice and roll around with us!

Booker Benford was my drill partner and practice partner everyday from 1982-85 in my college years! Booker weighed 177 and I weighed 277 Lbs. He never complained and was the hardest person to wrestle. His love of the sport was contagious and I caught it!

His work ethic made me work extra hard just to keep up with him and in turn made me a better wrestler. His knowledge of the sport educated everyone on the team and his success was what we all wanted, it created a standard that we all wanted to achieve and made us all hungry on our NCAA Championship teams.

Booker's mind was and is a vault of wrestling knowledge and we all grew in the sport because of it! The bottom line is that he made me better and hungry for more!

Joel Stockwell, Rock Island

I Wrestled for Riverdale under Jim Boyd and Myron Keppy. I was a 4-time placer (3rd at 112, 3rd at 125, 1st at 130, 2nd at 135). Our dual team also placed 3rd my junior and senior years.

Then I wrestled at Augustana for one year before deciding to give it up. After a year or two away from the sport I was hired on at Riverdale as an assistant coach under Myron Keppy who was then the head coach.

I stayed for several years before moving to Rock Island under Hall of Famer Larry Kanke, where we developed Rock Islandís first state champ in over 14 years (including Kankeís first-ever state champ). Then I took over as head coach for the 2008-2009 season.

We went 8-7, 10-5, 18-3, 20-1 and currently 14-3. Won our first-ever outright conference championship in school history in the 2010-2011 season and then repeated the following season. Also, had back to back Regional championships in the same years.

One major influence is Jim Boyd, my high school coach. He was there when I began intramurals in 3rd grade. I was loyal to him and believed in him with my whole soul. I would have done anything he asked me to do with out question. He was a cerebral coach excelling in motivating and practice planning.

He had a strong formula for slowly increasing the intensity throughout the season where individually and as a team his wrestlers would peak for the postseason. He was hard-nosed, serious, expected, demanded, and received excellence from all of his wrestlers on a daily basis.

His philosophies, dedication, and ability to prepare are what have driven me to have the successes I have had as wrestler and now as a coach. Two of my other assistant coaches (one of them being his son) were brought up under him and help to carry on his legacy now through Rock Island wrestling.

Another major influence is Gene Knight. Ever since my 4th grade year my older brother would drive us to the Knight Brotherís Wrestling Camp every summer in Clinton, Iowa. Gene was the father of some great wrestlers, including Steve and Danny Knight.

I was physically immature and chubby for my age, but Gene saw something in me or at least made me feel like he saw something in me. Every year I looked forward to seeing him at camp. He was the camp director and spoke every day to us before we began. He would always tell us stories of wrestling and life.

They always had to do with what it takes to be successful i.e. hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. The passion in his voice rang true with me, and I feel like I have carried that passion with me ever since. In short he took the time to believe in me and showed an interest in me that gave me confidence for the years to come. I owe a great part of my successes to him.

The other major influence is my dad, Floyd Stockwell. My dad is the one who drove me around to tournaments, camps, and practices. Without his support in good and bad I would have never been able to accomplish what I have so far. He was always there for me unconditionally and he still is.

A fixture in my wrestling endeavors he has changed his colors with me and now dons the Red and Gold in support of me and my teams. That kind of support is essential to being a successful coach.

Neal Weiner, Wheeling

I have been involved in wrestling in Illinois for about 41 years, including 31 as a coach. There are several people that have had a positive impact on my wrestling/coaching career.

My high school coach, Justin Ramp, showed me that unconditional support of his young wrestlers through the best and worst of times is necessary.

Peter Galea, Wildcat Wrestling Club coach, taught me how to train and utilize the most of an athletes given attributes. He is an amazing person who is the most dedicated wrestler I know.

The most influential person in my career I would say is the late Dr. George Girardi. Coach Girardi began his college coaching career at Illinois State in 1978 during my freshmen season.

While he wasn't the greatest tactical coach in the world he taught me how to be an excellent teacher and mentor. He was well organized and believed that discipline and hard work was the key to success.

Justin Wieman, Hononegah

Marty Kaiser has been the biggest influence in my wrestling career. Marty Kaiser coached five state champions 15 state placers and over 67 state qualifiers in his years as a head coach at Hononegah.

He was named Illinois Coach of the year as well as inducted into the IWCOA Hall of fame. Marty's philosophy of wrestling is very simple. Move forward and be the hardest worker on the mat.

As a current head coach I have tried to do my best to follow in those footsteps. Move forward and work hard is as much a philosophy for wrestling as it is for life.

In life we all are given different starting points, but those of us who chose to work to the top of our capabilities will outlast, overcome, and move beyond those who take their gifts for granted. This is what we preach and practice at Hononegah.

Travis Williams, Clifton Central

I only reply in the honor of the man who truly helped create and mold the wrestling coach I am today, Cory Blanchette.

On the personal side, I went to high school at Ottawa and graduated in 1999. Our coaches while I attended were Tom Ziel and Dan McDonell. Following high school I attended Olivet Nazarene University and was away from wrestling for five years.

My first teaching job and coaching position was at Manteno in 2006-2007. I had the privilege of meeting the man who truly helped me fall back in love with the sport of wrestling. This man was Cory Blanchette.

Cory and I coached all three levels of football together through the summer and fall. We became very dear friends and he offered me a position on his coaching staff for the wrestling program.

This was his first season as a head coach with the Panthers. Cory at this point was a coach that worked outside the building as a pipe fitter in the suburbs and rarely could make it to school in time for start practices.

Therefore, I was given the reigns early on to start practice and run the drilling and conditioning. This opportunity truly opened my eyes to the possibility that I could one day take on my own program.

During this first season with Cory I was fortunate enough to coach Mantenoís lone state champion, Ross George at 130 pounds. It was truly a magical run and I was able as a 1st year assistant to experience the full force of the regular season and the postseason in way very few are fortunate enough to experience.

Outside of the wrestling room I truly learned what it took to make a program successful watching Cory. He provided an example for a group of young men that would make each one of his wrestlers even to this day feel as though he was a father in their lives. I watched Cory do things for a community that created a sense of family amongst the Manteno wrestling program.

Following that first year of teaching at Manteno I was given the opportunity to take over a Central wrestling program in Clifton. The Central wrestling program has a very proud past winning three consecutive regional titles in the early 1980ís but had recently fallen to the bottom of Class A wrestling.

I consulted Cory before making the final commitment to Central and with his promises of providing any guidance or advice necessary I accepted the head coaching job during the2007-2008 season. That first year proved to be a great learning experience as I took over for a coach who had quit his teaching position but still continued to work as a co-head coach.

That first season we had just a couple wrestlers qualify for sectionals. The team comprised of only six individuals with only five weight classes being covered.

The following season was my first opportunity to truly put my stamp on a program and there was daily conversations from May through the summer and until really the 1st day of wrestling practice in the fall of 2008 between Cory and I. Cory and I took a couple weeks off from speaking which I think he did to allow me to start to develop my own identity that season.

We had a very successful year by our standards at the time at Central fighting to a 9-9 record. We filled 12 of 14 weight classes that season and had 16 wrestlers on the team. We had our first state qualifier that season Jon Dandurand at 285. It was a year that truly gave us momentum for the future successes here at Central.

I had the privilege of have qualifiers 3 seasons along with Cory and his Manteno squad. In a unique way we traveled together each season to state. Including that 1st year I coached at Central, the Manteno team and coaches riding with the Central team to State on the Central white bus.

We always followed the same schedule for the state series. Many nights spent researching opponents and even shared the scale on multiple occasions as the Manteno scale always seemed to quit at the worst times.

Blanchette and I had four head-to-head matches with him winning three of those. We also attended multiple tournaments, regionals and of course spending time at the sectionals coaches hospitality room.

Coach Blanchette and I both dreamed of winning a regional titles and finally to his credit they pulled one off in what would turn out to be his last season coaching the Manteno Panthers. I remember going to watch him at the team sectional lose a close battle with Prairie Central. It soured his taste maybe a little bit but I know that he didnít keep the regional plaque far from his grasp for a few weeks after that title in 2010-11.

That brings us to the summer of the 2011-12 season. There again was much promise with both of our squads. Cory had a great summer of training and I also believed we would be in a position to have a team that could challenge anyone. It was Halloween night and I received what would be the final text message from Cory.

It was a picture of his family dressed up for Halloween. I remember teaching in my classroom when I got the news that there had been an accident that morning on November 1st, 2011. Cory had been jogging his usual path at his usual time (5:00am in the morning) and had been struck by a car.

I remember having all those moments we shared flash across my mind in that short time after hearing the news. The Central administration knowing the bond our two wrestling teams shared allowed me to leave that day to go spend that morning and afternoon speaking and remembering Coach Blanchette. I can picture the circle of nearly 30 wrestlers and myself sitting for hours hearing the stories of Coach Blanchette and I telling the ones that I remembered.

Cory was an influence that not only affected my life as a coach but taught me how to be a leader of young men. I have tried to install as much of the Blanchette theory into my wrestlers as much as possible. I can't say others didnít influence my direction in coaching cause multiple individuals had a hand in where I have been. Yet, there is no doubt that Coach Cory Blanchette was a friend, mentor and will always be near and dear to my coaching career.

Russ Witzig, Triad

I graduated from Tremont in 1985 and from SIU Edwardsville in 1990. I was an assistant coach at Cahokia from 1990-91 to 1992-93 and have been Head Coach at Triad from 1993-to the present.

Wow, it is hard to narrow down who had the biggest influence on my wrestling and coaching career. I could probably write a book about it, but here it goes.

My parents, Jerry and Ann Witzig - My parents both grew up on farms and had little opportunity to be involved in sports. Because they missed out on many opportunities as kids, they provided me and my brother every chance to do things they never did especially when they knew that I was serious about wrestling.

From their example and expectations, I developed a very strong work ethic which in turn greatly contributed to my success in wrestling and life in general. My dad also preached daily that you can do anything you want if you believe you can do it and are willing to put in the work to do it.

The opportunities they provided and the work ethic and attitude that they instilled in me contributed greatly to my success as a wrestler and coach.

My high school coach Dale Schaidle - I was very fortunate to have wrestled for Coach Schaidle at Tremont. Coach Schaidle was a man of few words and rarely had to raise his voice. As a coach he did a great job a teaching the basics of wrestling and having his teams in top shape.

Our teams were not flashy or fancy but the basics that he taught and drilled allowed our teams to be pretty successful. He was also not afraid to discipline or put you in your place when needed.

I still remember when he called me into his office and told me he would rather have average wrestlers on the team who did not get in trouble than state champs who caused trouble and problems. It was a message that I needed to hear at the time and I took it to heart. I often wonder how I would have turned out as a wrestler and person without his influence.

My college teammates at SIUE - Being a Class A state champ, I was not recruited heavily and chose to walk on at SIUE, who at the time were the 2X defending NCAA Division II champs and arguably the best college program in the state. I already knew what I was getting in to when I decided to enroll, but when I got in the wrestling room I was in awe of the number of quality wrestlers.

There were returning All-Americans, recently-graduated All-Americans, and numerous state champs. Needless to say, you did not have to look too hard to find quality workout partners. Seeing this and being on this team made me want to be a part of this All-American fraternity.

As a walk on, I felt I had to work a little harder than everyone else if I was ever going to get noticed and reach All-American status and made sure I was a sponge and soaked in everything about wrestling I could from anyone in the room. Booker Benford had just finished his NCAA eligibility the year before I arrived and was still in the room helping coach, working out, competing internationally, and preparing himself for a shot at the Olympic team.

After my freshman year, I stayed at school in the summers and worked out with Booker on a regular basis. I got my butt-kicked in most of those workouts, but I learned more about wrestling working out with him than I had ever learned up to that time. I guess I was helping him prepare for all of the international wrestling he was doing but he helped me improve more than I ever benefited him.

I am listing some names of guys who were still wrestling in the room or were my teammates. Tim Wright, Alan Grammer, Steve Stearns, Ernie Badger, Kirk Bednar, Dwight Downs, Phil Johns, Eric Roberson, Tom Blaha, Al Sears, Maurice Brown, Brian McTague, Steve Harmon, Mark Kristoff, Kip Kristoff, Jon Wagner, Eric Morgan, Dan McGinnis. This is just a small sampling of some great guys I had as teammates and or coaches that had a big impact on me as a wrestler, coach, and person.

Bret Wojcik, Richmond-Burton

The person who has been most influential in my wrestling career and coaching career has been Kevin Carlson. He is the head coach at Glenbard East High school and was a G.E. grad and the only state champion in school history. He won the 1981 state championship at 185 pounds and had the returning 1,2,3,4, and 6th place winners returning at his weight.

Kevin's only time qualifying for state was the year he won it. He practices what he preaches and he preaches work ethic and mental toughness in all situations, not just in wrestling, but in life as well. Kevin was an assistant coach when I was there, taking over the program the year after I left, and he was the one that inspired me to go into teaching and coaching.

I wrestled at Glenbard East and graduated in 1998. I was more of a football player and I used wrestling as a vehicle to get me stronger, tougher, and more agile to play college football. I played football at UW-Platteville for four years and started for three of them at middle linebacker. During that time I came back from two serious knee injuries, one of which was and ACL tear, along with various other injuries.

Overcoming obstacles through wrestling in the past and keeping up with the strong work ethic and mental toughness that Coach Carlson and wrestling taught me were the reasons I could come back from those injuries and still play at a high level. I had played football since 3rd grade, but only started wrestling in 8th grade, so I was a little behind and my success was mainly on the football field. Wrestling played a huge role in that and although, I felt I never really reached my potential on the mat, it helped me reach it on the football field and in all other areas of my life.

I have been very fortunate here at Richmond-Burton to be associated with some great individuals and teams to coach. In my nine years as head coach here, I have coached 30 state qualifiers, 13 state place winners, and four state champions. In 2011 I had a team that finished 29-4 and made it to the Dual team state tournament.

Coach Carlson is the main reason for my success. Basically, my success is his success. I have modeled my program after his and I have reaped the benefits of his vision for his own program. That vision being to work through adversity and not worry about the wins and losses. Persevere through the tough times and come out a winner in life, and don't be afraid to take a chance because you are afraid of losing. Learning from your losses makes you a better man. True winners get back up and fight again!

Along with being such an influence on me professionally, Kevin is also my closest friend. When I went to college we kept in touch and once I became a teacher and a coach, our friendship really blossomed. Living about an hour and a half away from Lombard now, I still see him six to seven times a year both in and out of wrestling season. This summer I am getting married and Kevin is my best man. He is the best male in my life second to only my father. I consider him the older brother I never had, and he along with my parents, are the roots to my success!

Last edited by admin; 02-01-2013 at 01:50 PM.
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Old 02-01-2013
exwrestler155 exwrestler155 is offline
Go for the pin
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 387
Enjoyed these articles. Best thing I've seen on Matmen in a while. Lee's story was quite inspirational. Having your mom drag you to practice. I wonder how that would have worked on my son. Your respect for your mom shines through.

I went to a wrestling camp at ISU in 1984 and met Dr Girardi. Nice, no nonsense man. Good to hear his name brought up.

Wrestling is a small world, many of the names and teams mentioned I have crossed paths with in the past. Go Comets!

Last edited by exwrestler155; 02-01-2013 at 09:29 AM.
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Old 02-01-2013
admin admin is offline
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Posts: 7,049
Israel Martinez (Montini/Izzy Style) has been added to the story.
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