GRANT PARK | There have been some great wrestling tag teams through the years.
In the early 1970s in pro wrestling there were Dick the Bruiser and his cousin The Crusher, Bruiser and Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd, Hammond's own Handsome Jimmy Valiant and his "brother" Luscious Jon, and Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens.
Recently, another great tag team has emerged -- two schools that are co-oping for wrestling. Beecher and Grant Park high schools are in the second year of the arrangement and it is working out well. The eight miles that separate these two communities are joined through wrestling.
For Beecher junior Devin Mahnke, he said he would not be where he is without the co-op. As a freshman, he wrestled independently in a handful of matches and made it to the Class 1A state meet. This year he is 20-1 and has a chance to make it to the Class 1A finals at 170 pounds and maybe win it.
"We are like a family," Mahnke said. "For me, I would not have had the mat time or the experience without this arrangement. Being in the room, working with these guys only made me better.
"It has worked out great because I have made friends with these guys. We are a family."
Coach Byron McNally, who wrestled for Bloom and was an assistant coach there, said it has been a great experience for the kids.
"These kids have come together and sometimes that is tough when you are rivals in other sports, but they work together for one common goal," McNally said. "They work hard in the room and support each other. I know it's tough for the Beecher kids having to drive to practice, but they make it and they want to compete.
"We are one team."
Sophomore Kevin McNally, a Grant Park student, agrees that two schools combined make for a stronger program.
"We want to become a great program and this is the beginning," McNally said. "The more kids you have in the room, the harder you will push and get better.
"This is making us better wrestlers and it has also made new friendships. We do a lot of things together off the mat."
Nicole Thomsen, a Beecher junior, said it has been great.
"It's a way for kids who did not make the basketball team to participate in a different sport," Thomsen said. "Last year was an experiment and it worked out well. We have become a pretty close-nit team and made new friends. You spend 16 hours at a meet and on a bus, you become good friends quickly."
What they also share in common is gaining respect from their respective communities. The team practices in a small gym at the Grant Park Elementary School. The mats are from Purdue. Currently, the program is holding a fundraiser to buy two competition mats.
"We would like to have some home meets," said Brenden Coletti, a Grant Park student. "I think that way we can show the fans what we are about and get more people out to wrestle.
"We are not concerned with what we don't have (a wrestling room), but we make the best of what we have."
He said Mahnke's success will be great for the program.
"If Devin can win state or place, that is even better for us," Coletti said. "People will see what we are about."
Thomsen said she has also gained respect. Being a female wrestler, last year some opponents did not take her seriously, but that has changed.
"They know I am here to stay that I didn't come out just for publicity," Thomsen said. "After matches this year, (opponents) come up to me after we shake hands and say 'You've improved 110 percent from last year' and that makes me feel good and want to get better."
McNally and his staff are also proud of the fact all but two of the 15 wrestlers have a 3.0 GPA or higher.
"We stress wrestling, but there are more things in life," McNally said. "We give trophies for outstanding wrestler, most improved, but we give bigger trophies for academics."