CALUMET TWP. | The Region Wrestling Academy has a new location to go with its new name. But for RWA coach Alex Tsirtsis, it's where it all began.
"This room right here is where I went to my first wrestling camp," Tsirtsis said of the Calumet High School wrestling room, where the RWA now sets up shop. "I was 6 years old. (Calumet coach) Jim Wadkins was running the camp. I didn't know too much about wrestling beforehand. I just went out there and fought the best I could."
Tsirtsis later became a four-time state champion at Griffith while compiling a 236-0 record before earning NCAA All American status at the University of Iowa, where he helped the Hawkeyes claim two national championships.
By day, Tsirtsis works at a trading firm in Chicago. By night, he's a hands-on coach for the RWA. And while watching Tsirtsis demonstrate moves and counter moves on his younger brother -- two-time Crown Point state champion Jason Tsirtsis -- you realize he's someone who can do more than talk and tie his shoes at the same ... rather teach and tie you in a knot at the same time as he has maintained much of his agility, quickness and aggressiveness.
"We're getting many of our high school kids ready for the season," Tsirtsis said. "We're working on technique and conditioning all the way up to Oct. 28 (Session One's last day). The high school season starts on Nov. 1."
Until then, a typical RWA practice will have at least five state finalists on the mat at the same time. Jason Tsirtsis, Crown Point 145-pound champion Eric Roach, Lake Central 112-pound champ Kyle Ayersman, Hanover Central 103-pound runner-up Kyle Ayersman, and Chesterton 152-pound runner-up (2009) Anthony Quiroz were all present for an Oct. 5th gathering.
"We get kids from all over," RWA coach Bill Hawkins said. "We get kids from Rensselear, Newton County, Illinios ...
"When the high school season starts, many of these guys will be with their high school teams. But that's when the younger kids will take over after their middle school and youth football seasons are over," Hawkins said. "So we will still be busy."
Hawkins, a 1990 state runner-up with Crown Point who later wrestled for Edinboro University (Penn.) under the tutelage of two-time Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner, formerly ran the CIA NWI Wrestling Academy with longtime colleague Vince Sessa at Hanover Central.
"But we decided to break off on our own," Hawkins said. "And the reason why we moved here is because of its location. It's centralized for all the wrestlers who come here."
The RWA is due to start its Session Two on Nov. 1. Faint of heart need not apply.
"We're looking for that hard-nosed kid who wants to reach the next level," said Sessa, who was the 119-pound champion for Lake Central in 1997 after finishing runner-up the season before. "This is a little different than your regular school practice.
"Here, you can have state champion working against state champion. And they'll push each other until someone sees a crack. And none of these guys want to crack first."