This is the second in a two-part series examining the status and growth of wrestling in the North Shore. For part one, click .
Good for building character
As an individual sport, most people wouldn’t necessarily think of wrestling as an activity that fosters team bonding.
But youth wrestling clubs provide a unique chance for children to learn from older athletes. While high schools teams only incorporate youth whose age difference is at most three years, the TWC involves wrestlers from first through eighth grade.
“The 8- to 10-year-olds really look up to the big kids,” Michelle McKenna said. “There were great kids who were great role models that really take them under their wing.”
She has seen Alec transform from an impressionable youngster to an assertive leader.
Even his brother Matt recognizes the value in having teammates to work with.
“The kid I work with focuses and he’s a good partner,” said Matt, 8, a third-grade student at Crow Island School. “He’ll help me learn because he’s better and has been in the club for a year longer than me.”
The benefits from wrestling transfer over to other sports as well. Aside from the obvious improvements in physical strength, the Ryans and McKennas noted that wrestling had a positive influence on a kid’s mental toughness and focus.
“When you come off a match and a tough loss, you’re upset and you throw a little fit,” said Patrick, a fifth-grader at the School of Saints Faith, Hope & Charity, a Catholic institution in Winnetka. “But as you go on, you get over it and go out and get the next one.”
Slow growth at local club
Even with all of wrestling’s intangible benefits, any athletic program won’t grow without improving results.
This was the problem with the TWC before Tadelman took over. Participation was steady, but the club wasn’t geared toward competitive wrestling.
“We played more games [at practice]; we didn’t really learn the variety of moves we learn now,” Alec said. “Since [Coach Tadelman has] been here, the club’s improved a lot.”
Tadelman is now taking his team to tougher tournaments, and traveling farther distances to compete in places such as New Lennox, Peoria and Springfield. It’s all part of his overall philosophy: to be the best, you have to wrestle the best.
With the club’s improvement, Tadelman says he now has 35 kids registered for his program, 25 of which come to practices on a regular basis.
“[Coach Tadelman] came in with a lot bigger expectations,” Michelle said. “[The kids] all kind of enjoy it more and the club has grown because of it. I think people see a club start to succeed and all of a sudden everyone takes notice.”
Yet the club’s numbers still pale in comparison to what Tadelman saw when he was with the Crystal Lake Wizards Wrestling Club, where 200 children participated.
Still, the results from Tadelman’s initial efforts at the youth level have already trickled up to New Trier’s high school team. Sophomores Chris Alcock and MJ Pritchard, who were in the club program when Tadelman first took over, were among New Trier’s most successful wrestlers this season.
“It’s exceptional to have high school coaches in the youth program,” Chuck Ryan said. “You don’t have it in football; you don’t have it in baseball; you don’t have it in any of these other sports.”
Developing more than a feeder program
Tadelman said he is always seeking to improve New Trier’s wrestling team through his feeder program, but his overall goal is to see wrestling become part of the area’s sporting culture.
Before he took over, the program only involved middle school students. Now, some participants as young as 5 have joined the TWC.
Tadelman knows the best marketing method for his program is word of mouth. Alec’s development into a top-notch wrestler is a start. The continued progress and interest of younger participants like Patrick and Matt will be the key.
“The Central Suburban League needs to improve and the way to do that is through the club,” Tadelman said. “We’ve got to get kids who are competing at the state level now.”