JIM PETERS: Calumet wrestling coach Wadkins to receive prestigious Thom award

2012-02-15T22:15:00Z 2012-02-16T06:50:03Z JIM PETERS: Calumet wrestling coach Wadkins to receive prestigious Thom awardBy Jim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 15, 2012 10:15 pm  • 

The litany of names reads like a who's who of Indiana high school wrestling.

At Sunday's Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association banquet, Jim Wadkins will join the cast of greats to receive the prestigious Billy Thom Award.

The modest Calumet coach still can't believe it.

"Looking at the list, I'm embarrassed. I'm like, this has to be a mistake," Wadkins said. "I don't feel I should be mopping the mat for some of these guys. I'm humbled that I can be mentioned in the same group."

The award's namesake coached Indiana University from 1927 to '45, leading the Hoosiers to the 1932 national title. He also guided the U.S. Olympic team in 1936. It's given annually to someone who has been contributed to Indiana prep wrestling in some way.

Though separated by generations, Wadkins is linked to Thom through an incredible string of associations.

Among Thom's wrestlers were Chris Traicoff, a national champion who started a fledgling program at then-Calumet Township High School in 1939. He was steered to IU by Lowell native and fellow Hoosier grappler George Belshaw, the Warriors' first basketball coach. The school closed in 1941 due to overcrowding and World War II, but Traicoff later returned to Calumet as a coach and athletic director.

In 1965, he brought back wrestling, hiring Rolland Beckham as coach. Wadkins, a 1980 Calumet grad, wrestled four years for Beckham and also learned under Ken Stigall, Beckham's successor, Fred Sanchez and Doug Starewicz.

Wadkins went on to Wabash, where he was coached by Max Servies, who spent 40 years at the Crawfordsville school, and Ed Switzer. They as well as Beckham, Stigall and Sanchez were all products of Chester "Chuck" Sanders, another Thom disciple, who started the program at Wabash and revived another at Indiana State.

In 1990, Wadkins succeeded Stigall at Calumet.

"I've just been fortunate to be put on top of the shoulders of some giants of the sport of wrestling in Indiana," Wadkins said.

The coaching tree doesn't stop there. Wadkins' head assistant is Andy Trevino, a Calumet state champ in 1991 whose son Noah now wrestles for the Warriors.

Wadkins has also been helped out by Tony Smith, Pat O'Donnell, Gary Fox, Larry Slagle, Jeff Jorge, Mike Redd, Sean Begley, Ryan Alb, Mike Clark and George Porter.

"It takes champions to make champions, and I share this with all of them," he said.

At the risk of not being able to unlock his front door, Wadkins knows he can't forget wife Michele and daughters Megan and Rachel for their sacrifices.

Wadkins won his 300th dual match this season, but his career isn't just about numbers. His impact extends well beyond the mat, which has served as his classroom for teaching life lessons. Not coaching in a hub of affluence, Wadkins has been a lot of things to a lot of kids who have come to him from difficult backgrounds. Impromptu visits by alums to practices, meets and even Facebook tell Wadkins he's been doing something right.

"I've had the privilege of teaching and coaching hundreds of 'sons' and now one 'daughter' (Kalia Clark)," he said. "The kids have overachieved and surpassed so many obstacles. I'm glad I've stuck around so long, because it's been a blast."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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