At IPS, wrestling is on the rise.
Currently offered in three IPS high schools, wrestling has experienced levels of success that our schools haven’t seen in recent years with competitors advancing to regionals in the state tournament and one student athlete earning a spot in the semi-state round.
Rick Vanover, a George Washington High School alum and head wrestling coach, is 10 years into his coaching tenure as a Continental and sees a bright future ahead for his wrestling program — especially after the progress his team made this year. Comradery was a big point of emphasis for them as they gelled throughout the season.
“These kids started growing as family members,” said Vanover. “You’ve got different kids with different backgrounds and they all started to come together as one, as a family unit. That’s what it takes to have a good team. They’re comfortable pushing each other and making each other better.”
The Continentals wrestling team, which is full of honor roll students, was led by seniors Marcelo Beck and Darren Reese, both of whom began wrestling in seventh grade and advanced to regionals in the state tournament this year. Marcelo’s improvements came from participating in off-season camps and being more mentally prepared. Darren credits his success to improving his breathing techniques and practicing harder.
First-year wrestler, and the third senior on the team, is the district’s only female wrestler, Corionna Tillman. And after a broken hand cut his freshman season short, Davon McMillion is looking forward to proving himself next season.
Another reason for Vanover’s positive outlook moving forward is the support he feels from the administration at George Washington.
“With the new administration here, we’ve seen a vast improvement. Principal Law is a former wrestler and coach himself, so he stands behind us and went to nearly all of our matches,” said Vanover. “Once the kids see the school staff showing support, they start to want it more and show improvement, and this administration has brought that.”
Veteran Coaches Led Way for the Arsenal Tech Titans
The Arsenal Tech High School Titans wrestling team features former Broad Ripple High School wrestling coach Derek Butts at the helm, along with longtime IPS wrestling coaches Terell Al-Sharif and Charles Jewell.
This veteran group of coaches helped several Titans reach the regional round, including freshmen Dedric Robinson and JuhQuan Strudivant, junior Jaylin Harris, and junior Joe Rice who advanced to the semi-state round of the state tournament in the 170-pound weight class. Joe began wrestling in eighth grade at Arlington Community High School under head coach Jewell. After a successful junior season, Joe is looking forward to more personal and team success next year.
“I caught onto a lot of things that my coaches taught me and I know where I can improve,” said Joe. “I’m looking forward to helping some of the younger guys next season. I’m trying to make it to the big dance at state and have more people come with me. I want some teammates to go as far as I went, if not further.”
All three of Tech’s coaches are local firefighters who have a passion for serving youth through the sport of wrestling. A major piece of their coaching philosophy is to use wrestling as a tool to prepare their participants to be successful after high school. Assistant coach Al-Sharif has coached wrestling in various IPS schools for 21 years, and sees coaching student athletes as more than getting them prepared to compete on the mat.
“We teach them wrestling and how it rolls over into real life,” he said. “The battles that they’re having now can be compared to some of the battles they’ll struggle with in life. As you grow older, you’ll beat these obstacles. You can go through it, around it, over it or under it; the idea is to never retreat.”
Crispus Attucks Took a Giant Leap Forward
Coach Jovan McCray and assistant coach Jamie Rickard have worked hard to get things moving in the right direction for wrestling at Crispus Attucks High School.
The program took a big step forward this year with junior Adrieon Smith and sophomore Kamaany Hall advancing to regionals.
Adrieon previously attended John Marshall and Arlington high schools. Kamaany attended Northwest High School, and most recently George Washington before becoming a Tiger earlier this school year. Both young men are multisport athletes who are excited to have found success wrestling at Attucks.
One key for Attucks’ progress this year was preparation.
“A couple of the biggest things for us this year were conditioning and mental attitude,” said McCray. “Toward the end of the year, they started to get a better understanding of how important practice was, and actually practicing the right way.”
Offseason is Key to Next Season’s Success
Each high school is looking to emphasize offseason workouts as a way to keep their wrestlers engaged and gain more experience, which is an important piece of any successful high school sports program.
May 14-16, George Washington will host a wrestling skills camp for middle school and high school students in the city. This will be the fifth year for the camp, which features hall of fame coaches and wrestlers.
District Director of Athletics Darren Thomas credits a lot of the success to the coaches at the head of each program.
“Across the district, wrestling coaches have shown an elevated level of dedication and passion year after year. Not just a passion for wrestling, but a passion for our students,” said Thomas. “I think the progress we’ve seen this year is just the beginning as we look to give them support and develop our younger student athletes.”
Overall, the future of wrestling in IPS looks promising high school freshman and sophomore standouts from this past season at the high schools and a growing middle school league, which saw Henry W. Longfellow Medical/STEM Middle School 28 win the 2019 city tournament and Harshman Middle School take the 2018 city tournament title.
Each of next year’s returning wrestlers has their sights set on advancing to the championship round of the state tournament, with many of them getting a taste of what it takes to get to that level. Whether IPS sees its first individual state champion since 1991 in the coming years or not, these student wrestlers are a part of an exciting era of rejuvenation as their hard work continues to pay off.