Valparaiso has one of the top high school athletics programs in the area.
With a few exceptions, it competes for Duneland Athletic Conference and sectional titles across the board.
You notice I said a few exceptions, and one of them is wrestling. With the recent resignation of Jim Smith, the Vikings' red-headed step child will be on its fourth coach in the last decade when the Valpo school board approved Mark Line for the position. He will also be Valpo's third straight coach who is not a teacher. The only other community coach in the DAC is Leroy Vega, but he's an icon in the sport with a legion of support.
Line's a proven coach. He knows wrestling. Years back, he was the man in the chair at Lowell when the Red Devils were a powerhouse. The difference? Line was getting a steady stream of football players on the mat. It's not happening at Valpo.
I can't say Vikings football players are being told not to wrestle, but I'm not sure they are being encouraged to do so either. Unlike the top DAC schools, linemen and linebackers are conspicuous by their absence in the wrestling lineup. Wrestlers are conditioned to maintain or lose weight. Football players are conditioned to add body mass. It's a tug of war Smith was losing in his efforts to fill upper weights, but there is a balance, a peaceful coexistence. Several DAC schools have standout football players who also wrestle. At some places, they want them to wrestle. It helps in numerous ways, balance, hand-eye coordination and toughness to name a few.
Unfortunately, there's an ongoing disconnect between the sports at Valpo. Even back in the day, when hall of famer John Cook was wrestling coach, it existed. Save for a few years when Todd Evans, a former Vikings athlete who excelled in both sports, was the coach, it has remained a quiet undercurrent.
Beyond that, have you seen where the wrestlers practice? They're jammed into the gymnasium balcony. It's sad. Where's the pride? You're basically telling the kids their sport is second class. Something should have been done back when the fieldhouse was constructed, but it wasn't and nothing's been done since to rectify the problem.
Smith and some well-intentioned parents coordinated a fund-raising plan to improve their accommodations. They've generated enough money to put up walls and Smith plans to continue to steer the drive to build a practice room. It shouldn't have come to this, not at a school like Valpo.
Smith didn't resign because of all the obstacles. His work territory expanded and he just couldn't manage it, given the increase in travel. Too bad. He brought the program, which was the dregs of the DAC when he took over, a long way in a short time. Valpo became an opponent to be reckoned with and there were no academic issues. Smith also cultivated interest in the sport, developing the middle school teams as a feeder system.
A fruit basket, a handshake and a slap on the back on his way out the door would've been nice, but Smith should've known better than to expect a thank you. It's wrestling. It's Valpo. Just be quiet and stay out of the way.
I wish Line well. It's tough navigating upstream. The least they can do is help him build a boat.