Wrestling “reversal” flips declining growth pattern


When someone mentions winter sports, most people think of basketball or swimming. But Saint Viator’s wrestling team is starting to make a name for itself. Following the addition of a new coaching staff this season and extreme growth of the team by nearly 200%, Saint Viator’s wrestling team has begun to grow into a competitive program. 

The wrestling team has had a fluctuating team enrollment over the past years, but the direction it has taken is promising for future years to come. During the ‘21-’22 winter season, the wrestling team fielded only 7 wrestlers, compared to the 14 weight classes that make up a complete team. This season, the wrestling team had a roster of 17 players, many of whom tried the sport for the first time.

“The biggest issue the Saint Viator wrestling team has had with enrollment is that there is no feeder team,” said wrestling head coach Mike Schneider. “Wrestling simply isn’t an option at many Catholic schools…leading to more kids playing basketball growing up.”

This leads to the wrestling team relying on new wrestlers, many of whom went into the season knowing little about concepts like how to score in a match.

“Many people see wrestling as uncomfortable or foreign to them, leading to a level of nervousness to come out and try something new,” said Mike Schneider. “Others find the level of intensity practices present as daunting at first.”

Stereotypes for the sport can turn off many people interested, or for others, the challenge of trying something new can be nerve-racking. However, according to senior and captain John Whelan, the sport shows its worth after a few weeks of practice.

“Wrestling can be really challenging to start off with…but it is 100% worth the struggle that you face at the beginning,” said Whelan. “I have grown so much in my work ethic, toughness, and discipline due to the sport, all of which has applied to my academics and personal life.”

The most overlooked aspect of wrestling is the mental part of the sport: the level of thinking that goes into high level wrestling helps build quick thinking and decision making skills.

“Wrestling is a lot like a puzzle or chess game,” said Schneider. “The man across from you presents another puzzle, in which you must respond…with ‘your move.’ Many variables end up making up each match, which leads to a level of uniqueness in every single match.”

Similar to other sports, Saint Viator’s wrestling team faces tough competition from some of the best teams in the state, such as Marist, Joliet Catholic Academy, and Notre Dame. Despite the challenges of facing these powerhouse programs, Coach Schneider believes that future growth could allow the team to rival these schools.

“Our biggest goal in order to compete in the ESCC against some of the top teams is to build up a program that can field a full roster complete with technically sound, confident athletes,” said Schneider. “We also hope…to reach out to middle schools to build up feeder programs that can build a foundation for the team in years to come.”

The addition of the new coaching staff, consisting of head coach Schneider and assistant coaches Mark Miedona, Dan Miller, and Joe Randazzo, has been one of the ways the wrestling team has begun to grow into “a new era of Saint Viator wrestling,” according to Schneider. All of the new coaches have experience wrestling at high school and D1 college level and have shown expertise in technique and teaching.

One area of potential growth for the program can be found in interest in cross-training for various sports. Many aspects of wrestling offer benefits to almost every other sport offered at Saint Viator High School, from football to soccer. Furthermore, wrestling also introduces key concepts for self-defense that can be applied in critical situations.

“For football, wrestling shares a large amount of similarity that allows football players to get a high level of training in the offseason,” said Schneider. “Strength building, conditioning, form tackling, and hand fighting are some of the benefits football players tend to see after a season of wrestling. Just as iron sharpens iron, wrestling serves as an opportunity for individual athletes to improve, which therefore causes improvements for their whole team.”