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Coaching Wrestling at Knox College


I certainly did not come to Knox College to be the wrestling coach. I worked out with the team a bit during my first year as a faculty member just to stay in shape and to provide another practice partner for the lighter weight wrestlers.  Al Partin was the long-standing coach at that time, and after a couple of years of badgering me he finally shamed me into entering the Knox intramural wrestling tournament just before he retired in 1983; I was relieved to find that my then 30-year-old self was able to win it pretty easily.


When Coach Partin retired, he was succeeded by Jim Bracken, a college librarian who had been a high school and college wrestler. When Jim left Knox in 1985, the college was without a coach as the season was slated to start, so the Dean of the College asked me to coach the team for a year until they could find a replacement. I rediscovered my love of the sport and realized how much I had missed it, so I stayed on after my "one year" stint was up.

I was the head wrestling coach at Knox College from 1985 to 1989, and then again from 1992-2000.  In 2000, I demoted myself to assistant coach because I simply no longer had the time to be an effective head coach.  From 2000 to 2015, I was very happy to serve as an assistant coach to a series of coaches: Brian Hastings (one season),  Tony Islas (12 seasons), Joe Norton (one season), and Matt Lowers (one season).


Unfortunately, Knox dropped its wrestling program in the summer of 2015. 


During my years of coaching we only occasionally had a team that was solid throughout the lineup.  However, I coached many individual wrestlers who had outstanding careers, including a two-time All-American, an Academic All-American, several conference champions, and dozens of conference and regional place-winners. 


I am particularly proud of how well most of my wrestlers have done in life after they graduated.  There are plenty of doctors, lawyers, scientists, & teachers in the pictures below, and we can even claim a professional artist, a successful film maker, a judge, the President of the Illinois State Senate, and an individual named to Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential people in the World" list among our ranks.  The pictures on this page are a hodge-podge that represent just a few of the people and events from my coaching career, with an emphasis on those wrestlers who had stellar four-year careers during the time that I have been at Knox.  


I wish that I could have acknowledged all of the great people I worked with during those years.

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Greg Leibach (Class of 2008) posing with the first two female wrestlers from Galesburg High School to place in the Illinois Girls' State Tournament in 2024. Greg is the head wrestling coach at Galesburg H.S., and he also had two male wrestlers place in the 2024 state tournament. Click on the photo to read the story.

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Here are three of my former Knox College wrestlers at a high school wrestling tournament in Waunakee, Wisconsin in December of 2023. From left to right are Eric Eckdhal (Class of 2000), Janelle Curtis Eckdhal (Class of 2001), and Brian Hastings (Class of 1999).

Janelle (who is also a dentist) is in her first year of coaching the girls' wrestling team at Monroe High School in Wisconsin, and Brian is the boys' head wrestling coach (and a teacher at) Fenton High School in Bensenville, Illinois.

The Knox wrestling legacy lives on through over a dozen different high school coaches.

Here is a photo of me with several Knox wrestlers from the late 1990s taken during homecoming in October of 2023. There was a gathering of wrestlers at this time to celebrate the induction of Kris Nelson into the Knox Athletic Hall of Fame as a football player. Pictured, from left to right, are Eric Eckdhal, Brian Hastings, Me, Kris Nelson, & Sean Hastings.

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Here is a nice interview with Eric Vogel, '16. Eric was one of the last wrestlers standing when Knox dropped its program, and he became an assistant coach at Galesburg High School. This picture is from a radio interview that Eric did when Galesburg was sending its first-ever wrestler to the Illinois state girls' wrestling championships in 2023. Later in 2023, Eric left Galesburg to become the pastor of a church in Minnesota.


Another Knox wrestler, Greg Leibach, '08, is the head coach at Galesburg and in 2023 he qualified three wrestlers for the state tournament and coached Galesburg's first state champ since 1964. Alex Varella was also a Knox wrestler who is currently coaching in Galesburg.


Knox wrestling is still having an impact in Galesburg! To hear the interview with Eric and his wrestler, CLICK HERE or click on the photo above.

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Don Harmon, Class of 1988, was

elected to the post of President of

the Illinois State Senate in 2020


A picture of me with Greg Ventris, '15 after he placed 5th at the 2014 Chuck Porter Open.  Also in the picture is Ellen Ramsey, '12, our long-time manager and psych major who came back to Knox to help us run this year's tournament.  Greg is now a teacher in the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), and Ellen is now the Director of Eligibility Services at the NAIA in Kansas City.


During Homecoming in October of 2015 (ironically, just after the wrestling program was dropped), three different individuals with Knox wrestling connections were inducted into the Knox Athletic Hall of Fame. 


The three inductees were Chuck Porter (the founder of Knox wrestling and its long-time benefactor), Al Partin (the head coach from 1954-1983), and Jaran Rutledge, '08, a two-time All-American and Knox career win leader). 


These pictures were taken on the night of the awards banquet and they include a cast of former coaches and wrestlers from throughout the history of the Knox wrestling program.  The photo of me at the podium was taken as I was reading the citation and induction for Chuck Porter.


The Knox wrestling team with Chuck Porter, the founder of wrestling at Knox,

after the annual "Chuck Porter Duals" on January 9, 2010.


Brian Hastings, '99 was one of the best wrestlers that I coached, and he was my assistant coach for one year and he served as head coach at Knox for another year.  Over the years, we have gotten to be good friends and we go out on the town together whenever he visits Galesburg.  We spend the evening drinking and boring his saintly wife Amy (who took these photos) with embellished stories of our glory days together.  Brian is currently a high school teacher and the head wrestling coach at Fenton High School in suburban Chicago.


Greg Ventris, '15, and Che Woodson, '18 in action at the Knox Duals in January, 2015 - the last season that Knox had a wrestling team.


Head Coach Matt Lowers with Chuck Porter at the 2014 Chuck Porter Open in the last season that Knox had a wrestling team.


The two photos above are from the team wrestling banquet in March of 2014.  Pictured on the left (L to R) are assistant coach Cowan Brown, Greg Ventris' 15 (Team Captain and winner of the first Chuck Porter Award), and head coach Joe Norton.  I am pontificating about something in the picture on the right.

Matt Surprenant, '17 - Conference Champion, Regional Placewinner, and team MVP as a Freshman.


A picture of me working the head scorer table at the Knox Invitational Wrestling Tournament in November, 2013. 

The photo was taken by Chuck Porter.


The 2013-2014 Knox College Wrestling Team


Mario Frye, '15, in action against the University of Dubuque, December, 2012


Knox heavyweight Stephen Bora

- 2013 Northern Wrestling Association Champion


This is a picture of the three longest-serving head coaches in the history of Knox College wrestling, taken at the Knox homecoming football game on October 20, 2012. From L to R in the photo are head coach Tony Islas, former head coach Al Partin (who coached from 1954-1983), and, of course, me.  Coach Partin was 90 years old when this picture was taken.


The 2012-2013 Knox Wrestling Team


Coach Tony Islas presenting Eric Steingruber, '14 with the Cleaveland Bridgman Award for being the outstanding performer in an individual sport at Knox College for 2010-2011.  Eric was a conference champion and a placewinner at the Great Lakes Regional during this season.

Me with two of our senior wrestlers, James Wagner & Jason Lafavor, in January, 2012.


Coaching during a match at the Chuck Porter Duals in January, 2012.  Head coach Tony Islas is the guy to my right, and assistant coach Jake Kerr (a former University of Iowa wrestler) is to my left.


Senior wrestler Alex Faulkner '12 and I not long after he recorded a 12 second pin against a wrestler from the University of Chicago who went on to become a National Qualifier, January, 2012.


Conference Champ & Great Lakes Regional Placer

- James Wagner. '12


The pictures above show me working as the Tournament Director at the 2011 Knox Invitational.  The guy sitting next to me is Drew Flock, a former Knox wrestler who became an admissions counselor at the college after he graduated.  I could not have run the tournament without his help.            


I appear to be praying during a match at the Chuck Porter Duals in January of 2011; it probably did not help . . . . .


Danny Stafford, '11


Edel Vaca, Class of "11 (Nationally ranked, regional placer, & 2nd in career victories at Knox)


The 2009-2010 Knox Wrestling Team


This picture shows me with two of our wrestlers, Tim Yee, '10, and Marty Dertz, '09,  before a meet against Central College of Iowa (held at Augustana College) in January of 2009.  


This picture shows a gathering of Knox wrestling at the 2008 National Champiosnhips in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Pictured left to right are Chuck Porter, the guy who started the wrestling program at Knox almost 70 years ago, current Knox head coach Tony Islas, Jaran Rutledge, Knox's two-time All-American heavyweight, Frank McAndrew, long-time head coach and current assistant coach, and Bob Kuykendahl, a former Knox wrestler who was Jaran's high school coach at Carmel Catholic H.S. in Mundelein, Illinois.


The pictures above show Knox's first two-time All-American wrestler, Jaran Rutledge (Class of 2008), shortly after he placed 3rd in the heavyweight class at the 2007 NCAA Division III national wrestling tournament.  Rutlege is also the all-time career win leader at Knox with 116 victories.  Shown with Jaran on the left is assistant coach Frank McAndrew and head coach Tony Islas.


Greg Leibach, Class of '08 (Greg came within one win of being an academic All-American in 2008. He is currently a high school art teacher and wrestling coach in Galesburg)


Josh "Chilly" Franklin, Class of '07. Josh is now a lawyer, and I hired him to paint my deck and garage one summer when he was in college. He was a regional placewinner.


Knox Wrestling, 2006-2007
(I am the first guy on the left in the second row, just in case you could not tell me apart from the young, in-shape wrestlers.)


Andrew "Scooter" Batt, Class of '05


Knox Wrestling, 2005-2006  


Vince Singleton, Class of '03 (Currently a film maker & college professor at Loyola University in Chicago)   


No record of my years of Knox wrestling would be complete without at least a mention of Janelle Curtis Eckdhal, Class of 2001.  


High school and college women's wrestling teams started to become a popular thing in the 2020s, but when Janelle started at Knox 25 years earlier, any woman who wanted to wrestle had to wrestle with males. Janelle was one of several female wrestlers that I coached at Knox, but she was the only one who had any real success.  


She was a four-year letter winner, and as far as we can tell, she is the only woman ever to defeat a male opponent in NCAA competition (pinning a male wrestler from Wabash College (Time of Fall: 2:13) in a dual meet held at Knox College on February 13th, 1999).  Janelle was quite competitive in many of her matches, and while at Knox she placed 2nd in the University National Championships for women.  I love to tell people that I am one of the only wrestling coaches ever to attend the wedding of two of his wrestlers to each other.  Janelle married Eric Eckdhal, class of 2000, who was a heavyweight wrestler in our program at the same time as Janelle.  Janelle is now a dentist living in Wisconsin, and she and Eric are the proud parents of four children.


Andy Van Zee, Class of '00
(Vice president of the Indiana Hospital Association; Responsible for managing $10.3 million in federal stimulus funds )

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                                Matt Berg, Class of '00 (Then & Now Photos!)

(Named to Time Magazine's 2010 List of the 100 Most Influential people in the World) (Currently the Information & Communication Technology Coordinator for the Millenium Village Project at Columbia University in New York City; Spends a great deal of time working in Africa.  Matt received an Honorary Degree from Knox in 2015.)


Tony Spizzirri, '98 (an Academic All-American), and Brian Hastings, '99 (Third on the Knox Career win list and a former coach at Knox).  Both were multiple conference placewinners who defeated All-American wrestlers in their careers, and both are now high school teachers and coaches in the Chicago area.


Me, Paul Roberson & Adam Wende, Late 1990s

Brian Hastings, Class of '99


Sean Hastings, Class of '98

(A multiple conference placer,

he is now a banker in the Chicago area)


Knox College Wrestling, 1997-98


Knox Wrestling 1995-96


Knox Wrestling 1994-95


John Doke, Class of '95 inflicting pain on a Monmouth Wrestler while he cooly checks the clock to see how much time is left. 
(John was a multiple conference placer who defeated several All-American wrestlers in his career. He currently works for the U.S. Postal Service in the Rockford, IL area)


A picture of me with my assistant coach in the late 1980s, Phil Gustafson.


Me coaching from the corner at a tournament in 1988 or 1989; the big guy sitting next to me is the late Phil Gustafson, my assistant coach at the time.


           John Martinek, Class of '90                         

(Currently an artist living in Iowa City, IA)


                            Joe Salvi, Class of '88                               
(Currently a judge in the circuit court of Lake County, IL)


         Jim Brown, Class of '86
Jim was my first team captain & a Knox Athletic Hall of Fame Member. He lettered in football, wrestling, & track for four years. Click HERE for more information about Jim.


My First Knox College Wrestling Team, 1985-86

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Dr. Fred Reifsteck, Class of '82

I knew Fred as a student and I used to watch him wrestle, but he graduated from Knox before I became the head coach. Fred is the Medical Director of the University of Georgia Student Health Center and the team physician for the 2022 & 2023 NCAA national champion Georgia Bulldogs football team. Click HERE for a more in-depth look at Fred's career.

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Tom MacMillan, Class of '81

When I first arrived at Knox as a faculty member, Tom was one of the top guys on the Knox team. He was a conference champ, a two-time national qualifier, and a Knox Athletic Hall of Fame inductee. I am sorry that he did not stick around long enough for me to coach him! Click HERE for more information about Tom.

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