Prep wrestling

JIM PETERS: Wrestling hall of fame induction a family honor to Portage's Vega

2012-12-27T17:15:00Z 2012-12-27T23:18:03Z JIM PETERS: Wrestling hall of fame induction a family honor to Portage's VegaJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 27, 2012 5:15 pm  • 

Family means everything to Leroy Vega.

That said, the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association may want to provide some extra seating accommodations at its annual hall of fame induction banquet Feb. 17.

The Portage wrestling icon and current Indians coach will be one of the inductees that day, and his invitation list is a long one.

"We're going to have three or four tables of family members," Vega said. "I'm excited. It's an honor not everybody gets to have. Being the athlete, I get all the glory, but this is a lot more for my mom, dad, cousins, coaches, friends, everybody who helped make it possible, who helped me get there.

"I owe a lot to them. I've always said you can't do it alone, without support. This is special for me, to say like, 'Hey, thank you, we did it.'"

Vega started wrestling at the age of 4. A year later, he was already competing in tournaments, waking up his dad to get him to the 6 a.m. weigh-ins.

"They're the ones who started it," Vega said of his parents. "I was never pushed. When we came home, we never talked about wrestling. When I started, (my dad) was my coach, but when I got to (Larry) Tharp and (Ed) Pendoski, he never said a word. He let them handle me.

"The greatest part (of finding out about the hall of fame) was when calling my dad, telling him I received the phone call and hearing him on the other end."

Vega won two state titles at Portage. He went on to Minnesota, where he was an all-American under coach J Robinson. His 2-year old son Lydon's middle initial, J, is an honor to Robinson.

"This brings back a lot of memories of being a young kid, being with my dad, wrestling in local tournaments with my cousins, dreaming of doing great things," Vega said.

"You never put it in perspective until you get a call saying you're being put in the hall of fame. In the last five, six years, I struggled with myself not accomplishing certain goals, not being an Olympian or an NCAA champion. I always asked myself, 'Was I successful?' In my eyes, I wasn't."

His own lofty standards not withstanding, Vega epitomizes success to many.

A 5-foot-2 Hispanic kid growing up in blue-collar South Haven, he earned everything he accomplished through hard work, sacrifice and dogged perseverance. His success extends well beyond the wrestling mat to Vega's personal and professional life.

"I was just talking to our team about it," he said. "I wasn't the biggest kid, obviously. I wasn't the best kid of all time. Not everybody said I'd do great things. My freshman year, I didn't make varsity. I just kept going, kept working at it with the understanding that I was going to do it.

"This (honor) is almost like a chapter of my wrestling career has finally ended. Now it's done."

The next chapter, during which Vega passes on what he's learned to the next generation, has already begun. In only his second year at Portage, he has already restored the program to state prominence with the same principles that guided him.

"It's nice now, being a coach, giving back, teaching kids, doing a youth program, having a son who loves it," he said. "It's a joy. The next thing I'd love to do someday is to go in the books as a hall of fame coach, being the best coach I can be."

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

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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