FLOSSMOOR | "There's really no way to sugarcoat it," Phil Thorne said. "It's one-on-one. Either you win or you lose. For some young kids, that's a little too much to take.
"Wrestling is not for everyone."
But Thorne believes it's for some people. That's why the former high school coach started the Spartan Elite Wrestling Club four years ago.
"There were so many kids starting wrestling in junior high school and high school, and never knew of any clubs to help introduce them to the sport at a younger age," Thorne said. "Throughout the state there have always been clubs, but there weren't too many around here."
The Spartan Elite Wrestling Club, which regularly practices at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, has 55 wrestlers. At the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation State Team Duals held Jan. 23 at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Spartan Elite placed sixth.
"You had to qualify for the Team Duals, and that was the first time we qualified as a team," Thorne said.
The historic distinction was nice, but for the 13-year-old 122-pounder Stevie Silva -- who wrestled well for Spartan Elite at Team Duals -- there is plenty of room for improvement.
"I know I could do better," Silva said, who was 24-13 after the Team Duals. "And I know we as a team can do better."
At the IKWF Senior Division Sectionals (individual), Spartan Elite placed second as a team while qualifying 10 wrestlers -- Silva and Anthony Talamonti of Manteno; Sebastian Valentin, Quintin Jones, Quincy Jones, Danny Wojislaw and Max Jung of Homewood; Polo Cabello of Chicago Heights; Jamaal Moore of Glenwood; and Dylan Conway of Frankfort -- to the IKWF State Finals, which were held March 7-10 in Rockford.
Though Thorne classified the club's showing in Rockford as a tough weekend, 12-year-old Talamonti placed fourth in the 66-pound division, and 14-year-old Valentin placed sixth in the 101-pound division. Going in the State Finals, both wrestlers had already exceeded 40 wins for the season.
Thorne hopes exposure of Spartan Elite's recent success will attract more would-be wrestlers from the area.
"It took a lot of footwork to get where we're at right now," Thorne said, "but we're willing to do what it takes to promote the sport of wrestling."
Promote as well as protest if needed. For many coaches, athletes and fans of the sport, the proposal by International Olympic Committee to drop wrestling as a core sport in 2020 felt like a body slam.
"When they made that decision, I got all kinds of messages from the wrestling community to sign petitions of protest to the IOC," Thorne said. "It's one of the original Olympic sports, and it's popular all over the world ... especially here. The IKWF has nearly 14,000 members and 5,000 coaches. That's a lot of people just from a single state.
"I think the more heat the IOC gets from this, the more likely wrestling will be saved."