30 Years Ago, We Pirate Wrestlers Were Kings Of The Mats — Now We’re Kings In Life

Proviso East Champion Wrestlers.png

A team picture of the 1986 Proviso East Pirate varsity wrestling team, which went undefeated and won the the Illinois State Wrestling Championship. | Regi Ratliff

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 || By Dr. Regi Ratliff || OPINION 

As the final horn sounded on March 3, 1986 on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, my teammates and I celebrated an Illinois High School State Wrestling State Championship.

Winning a state championship meant more than finishing the season undefeated. It was a moment of sweet revenge against a Joliet Central team who clobbered us one year earlier at the same site on the way to their own state championship.

It was a very gratifying moment, because some of my teammates were raised by their grandparents, some raised by their siblings, a few came from abusive homes and one who was homeless. Winning the ultimate prize made things better for at least for that moment.

The previous season, we were coming off a second place finish in the rugged West Suburban Conference championship that featured ranked teams Lyons Township, Hinsdale Central, York and Glenbard West, as well as returning conference champion and state runner-up Leyden Township.

We knew that the road to winning a conference championship went through Franklin Park (Leyden), but the road to the ultimate crown went through Joliet (Central). Although we respected Leyden, we believed our experience and athleticism would overtake the Eagles for the conference championship.

We were, however, upset by how we embarrassed ourselves in front of our family and friends in Champaign by getting throttled by a Joliet team we gave too much respect to. As we slowly walked off the mat with our heads down, our junior season having come to an end, a few of us looked into the crowd and witnessed the large section of Steelmen fans whooping it up as if they were laughing in our face. We knew we had to get revenge the next season and remove that bitter taste of defeat from our mouths.

We had one goal heading into our senior season and that was winning the state championship. We began preparing during the freestyle season after the regular season ended. We trained after school and lifted weights. We ran for miles in the blazing sun and competed in the toughest freestyle tournaments around the country.

The Chicago Sun-Times ranked us second in the state at the beginning of our senior season, just behind Joliet Central. Our season was off to a fast start, with tournament wins at West Chicago, Fenton, and Leyden. But our calendar was circled for January 11. That was our first revenge match against Joliet Central.

After coming away with a satisfying 32-27 victory over Joliet Central, we unanimously claimed the state’s top ranking. We knew Central would be gunning for us and we had to be ready.  While we were happy to defeat Central, we almost had one major slip-up during the season, as we barely slipped past the state’s fourth-ranked team, Marist High School, in a dual meet. After escaping with a win, we recognized that we had a target on our backs and it was time to take our intensity to the next level.

As the regionals approached, we were like a well-oiled machine. We dominated that level and won by a landslide in the sectionals. After defeating third-ranked Naperville North in the dual meet sectional championship, we were heading downstate for the second consecutive season. Unlike last season, when we were caught up by the soft mats and bright lights, we were ready.

After blowing past Leyden in the state quarterfinals, we showed Marist that our close match against them earlier that season was a fluke, destroying them in the state semifinals As a matter of fact, our head coach Bill Cartwright began forfeiting matches in the upper weight class in preparation of our rematch against Joliet Central.

Joliet Central had a lot of fans waiting for us, but this time would be different. We brought our own and we defeated the Steelmen 25-21. As I looked into the stands, I noticed the Joliet Central fans and all their different color pompoms and horns were eerily silent. We watched the Steelmen faithful stare at the mat in disbelief and celebrated our victory.

On the other hand, our family and supporters were in the stands and shared our tears of joy. They were behind us the entire season. The entire Maywood community was behind us as they packed the gymnasium for our home matches and represented in large numbers for both our away matches and tournaments.

To this day, the debate rages on about who was the best team in Proviso East history. Check this out! I started things off at 98 pounds. My buddy Robert Bond at 105 pounds, Roosevelt Williams was (112), Michael Webb was (119), Co-Captain Terry Murphy was (119), Bobby “Doolittle” Walton (126), Maurice Fields (132), Blair Walker (138), Keith Brown (145), Fred Woodson (155), Stanley Hayes (167), Ed Rossollille (185) and Co-Captain Ricky Stewart (heavyweight.)

We had 11 seniors in our line-up. Maurice Fields was a junior. Eleven of us made it downstate for the individual championships, with only Stanley Hayes missing state and that was due to injury in the sectionals. Ten of us wrestled in college and had fairly successful careers. To this day, we are still good friends.

As I reflect on this 30-year anniversary of winning the state championship, I still say it is the most satisfying victory I’ve ever experienced. As an All-State wrester on an undefeated state championship team, I felt a level of satisfaction that cannot be described.

That state championship gave me the confidence to know that anything is possible. My wrestling career continued, as I became a four time national qualifier, a two time NCAA All-American, and the first black All-American at Ferris State University.

More importantly, I completed my undergraduate studies in accounting and most recently my doctorate in organizational leadership. Other teammates have become responsible citizens, such as Murphy (NCAA All-American and high school Dean), Webb (wrestling coach), Williams (military and wrestling coach), Walker (wrestling coach), Fields (businessman/wrestling coach), Hayes (real estate), Brown (mathematician), Woodson (entrepreneur), Walton (business) and Bond (wrestling Coach)

Over these past 30 years, we lost teammates Curtis Jenkins, Ed Rossollille and Ricky Stewart at an early age. We miss them and they will always be with us spiritually.

On behalf of my teammates, we would like to thank Assistant Coaches Ben Kuss, Glenn Lid, and Charles Flowers, and Head Coach Bill Cartwright for their support on the mat. We also want to thank our family, friends, the Maywood community and Pirate nation for your support in guiding us to the mountaintop. VFP

Reverend Dr. Regi Ratliff is the Founder and Executive Director of Eternal Light Community Services, located at 200 S. Fifth Avenue in Maywood. Eternal Light provides the following programs:public speaking, financial literacy, health and wellness, and entrepreneurship classes to youth, ages 5-18.

Contact Rev. Ratliff at (708) 813-4722 to register your child for one of our programs today.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.

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