State Stories

08

Chicago Fire: Firefighter/Coach Ron Wilson Has Built Bowen Wrestling Into CPS Power

Bookmark and Share

John Keilman, ChicagoTribune:

Bowen High is a neighborhood school in a neighborhood that has seen better days. All the familiar urban ills can be found outside this stately South Chicago behemoth — long-shuttered factories, a shrinking population, unemployment, drugs and violence.

But inside, a few paces beyond the metal detectors, stand four trophy cases bulging with hardware, testament to a culture of discipline and sacrifice that has flourished here for more than a decade.

Bowen's wrestling team, assembled from a meager student body, is one of the top squads in Chicago. Despite entering high school with little experience in the sport, the team's athletes regularly win city titles, battle their way to the state finals and earn college scholarships.

The architect of this unlikely powerhouse is Ron Wilson (above coaching Brandyn Peacock in 2015 220-pound 1A state title match, right holding Peacock after his victory), a city firefighter who caught the wrestling bug when he was a third-grader in nearby Avalon Park. Trim and dynamic at 56, the veteran coach can still toss teenagers to the mat with little effort.

"Basic moves win," he said in the Boilermakers' sweltering practice space during a recent demonstration of clinches and counters. "Every trip (to state), those fancy moves will get you in trouble. I want you all to remember that."

Yet like many coaches in Chicago Public Schools, Wilson's role goes far beyond teaching the skills of the sport. He raises the money, cajoles the prospects, finds the tournaments, drives the van, stops the nosebleeds, cleans the mats, washes the clothes, visits the homes, talks to the counselors and, sometimes, goes to the funerals.

Click here to read remainder of story on Chicago Tribune website