First-year wrestling facility a big hit in Northwest Indiana

First-year wrestling facility a big hit in Northwest Indiana
2009-01-16T00:00:00Z First-year wrestling facility a big hit in Northwest IndianaBRIAN WADDLE
Times Correspondent
nwitimes.com
January 16, 2009 12:00 am  • 

CEDAR LAKE | Ed Pendoski remembers the talk.

It was cheap, but it was obviously the start of something.

Back during his wrestling days in the late 1980s at Merrillville, Pendoski would talk it up with rival and eventual friend Bill Hawkins, then a wrestling star himself at Crown Point. It was typical "my team is better than your team" and "I'm a better wrestler than you are" stuff, but the two also became best buddies and began talking about the future.

It was 20-plus years in the making, but talk turned into reality, and reality turned into Northwest Indiana's only wrestling training center for the dedicated grappler.

In May, Pendoski, who started Central Indiana Academy of Wrestling (CIA) in Indianapolis in 2005, opened the doors on his second venture: CIA Northwest Indiana, an extension of the original academy, in Cedar Lake.

"For a long time, Billy and I have been daydreamers," said Pendoski, who guided a powerhouse Portage program for 11 years. "I think we realized what we could do and the timing was right."

Thanks to Hanover Central and its administration, CIA Northwest Indiana has found a home. The school runs 12 months a year -- nonstop, like a wrestler -- and houses kids aged 8 and under, as well as middle schoolers and high school kids when they're out of season.

Besides Overtime School of Wrestling in Naperville, there was nothing in the area to provide an outlet for the loyal wrestler. That's where Pendoski and Hawkins came in.

"We're not trying to take the place of a (high school) club -- this is a school for the serious wrestler," said Hawkins, the 152-pound state runner-up for C.P. in 1990. "People around the state know the Region -- they know us everywhere.

"You just say, 'Region,' and people know you're talking about solid wrestling. It's a passion for us."

Added Pendoski: "There's no agenda, except to get Indiana wrestlers better."

Pendoski, who was a part of 13 Duneland Conference titles during his time as both head coach and assistant at Portage, turned the program into one of the best in the state. The Indians went 327-27 during his tenure.

Eight days after taking Portage to the team state tournament in 2005, Pendoski opened the doors at CIA in Indianapolis with Kelly Collier. He resigned at Portage and moved to Indy.

"The perfect situation came up," Pendoski said. "And we knew from the first day if it didn't work out, we wouldn't be around long. (If) you don't produce and make kids responsible and better wrestlers, you don't stay open."

Thanks to a thriving business -- and results -- the two longtime friends decided to expand. Pendoski comes up to the Region every Tuesday night, but Hawkins, former Lake Central state champion Vince Sessa and Merrillville product Chris Rassbach are in total control.

"When I was in high school, we didn't have a place like this to train," said Sessa, the 119-pound champ for LC in 1997. "I remember working out with the Maldonados (Billy, Paul and Tim) and rotating from school to school. We did 'Beat the Bull,' and you wrestled as many guys as you could, but with no instruction."

Things have definitely changed.

Most of the area's top high school wrestlers are training at CIA and training with other top-notch competition. Over the holiday break, Hanover Central grad Andrew Howe, a three-time state champion and freshman at Wisconsin, was on hand and stopped to talk to the youngsters.

Now kids from Valpo all the way to Bloom Twp. in Illinois are coming to see what CIA is all about.

"We really feel good about the future," Hawkins said. "It is a business, but it helps when you love what you're doing."

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