Not all that long ago, River Forest's wrestling program was in danger of being discontinued due to a lack of interest.
"They were down to two or three kids," first-year Ingots coach Brian Wesley said.
Fortunes have certainly changed for the Class 2A school along Deep River.
R.F. won its first-ever conference title this year, dating back to its days in the old Northwest Hoosier Conference, as it captured Greater South Shore Conference honors. The junior high team did the same. An all-time high of three Ingots -- Ryan Brown, Isaac Rentas and Robert Yanez -- reached the semistate, and Chandrajit Chingakham became the school's first exchange student to make it to the regional.
"We started getting football kids over to wrestling; we started filling a team, and we started having some success," Wesley said. "The more success we had, the more kids got interested. It's just building and building. There's a good buzz in the community about the success the program is having."
Wesley is trying to bottle that buzz by setting up a wrestling season for the three grade schools in the Hobart Township Schools district. As of a week ago, 50 elementary kids had already signed up.
"We're a small school. For us to get 50 kids in (grades) K to 5, we're just ecstatic," said Wesley, a 2002 Lake Central grad who wrestled for the Indians among other sports. "If we can get that many with our schools alone, we can end up with a lot of kids when we start a club and get kids from other places."
Children from Meister, Evans and R.F. schools have been practicing this and last week in preparation for a meet, known as a Friendship Dual, at 10 a.m. Saturday. It's all a stepping stone to next year, when assistant coach Danny Bell, a former Ingot who already does private training, will begin a youth club.
"The whole idea, first of all, is we just want to get kids interested in wrestling," Wesley said. "Danny noticed that there's no place in the community for kids to go. Through the process, if they learn how to do moves and get better as wrestlers, our job becomes easier when they get to junior high and high school. We want to make River Forest known as a good wrestling school."