By STEVE KRAH
One family has had their hand raised in victory nearly 500 times while representing Calumet High School wrestling.
Brothers Artty (Class of 1991) and Ed Fowler (1992) grappled to victories for the Warriors then the next generation added to that total. Artty and Deanna Fowler’s five oldest sons — Nathan (2010), Noah (2014), Nick (2015), Kobe (2016) and A.J. (2019) — have all won for the Warriors, especially Nick and A.J.
With success in the IHSAA state tournament series, A.J. has a chance to pass Nick on the way to the top of the Calumet victory list. No. 1 is now held by 2010 130-pound state qualifier Mike Clark (143).
In a household full of wrestlers, A.J. found out he had to get tough just to protect himself.
“I’m as aggressive as a I can be,” says A.J. Fowler. “All my brothers beat me up when I was little.”
All the Fowlers have played football and wrestled for the Warriors. A.J. ran for more than 500 yards as a fullback and also played defensive end and outside linebacker last fall. He sees his collegiate path including business management classes and either wrestling or football.
“The two go hand-in-hand for success in both,” says Jim Wadkins, a 1980 Calumet graduate who grappled at 177 pounds for coach Rolland Beckham (who had been an NAIA All-American at Indiana State and coached at Calumet for 18 years) and has been on the wrestling coaching staff since 1984-85 (he was an assistant to Ken Stigall, who was placed third at 112 at the 1967 IHSAA State Finals) and head coach since 1990-91.
Known for close to a decade after reorganization as Calumet New Tech High School, the Gary-based school has about 600 students. That makes it one of Indiana’s smaller Class 3A schools.
“We’ve got a lot of two- and three-sport athletes at Calumet,” says Wadkins.
A.J. Fowler wrestled at 182 pounds as a freshman, 195 as a sophomore and junior and is at 220 as a senior. His resume includes two sectional titles, one regional crown, three semistate berths and a state qualifying appearance in 2018. He has a chance to join Butch Carpenter as four-time semistate qualifier for Calumet.
The Warriors are members of the Greater South Shore Conference and face a strong schedule which includes, in addition to the conference tournament, the Warsaw Invitational, Harvest Classic at Lake Central, Chris Traicoff Memorial Invitational at Calumet, Jeffersonville Classic, Al Smith Classic at Mishawaka and Lake County Championships. Chris Traicoff started the Calumet program in 1939. The program was shut down during World War II and beyond and Beckham helped bring it back with the help of AD and boys basketball coach Traicoff during the 1960’s. He died in 1989.
According to Wadkins, Lowell native George Belshaw introduced Traicoff to Indiana University coach Billy Thom and even though 1935 valedictorian Traicoff played basketball and never wrestled a match in at Calumet Township High School, he won an NCAA title for the Hoosiers in 1939. That same year, he came back to Calumet to start the program. Calumet’s modern state tournament path has led them through the Griffith Sectional, Hobart Regional and East Chicago Semsitate.
In other words, a lot of tough Region wrestlers.
“It’s pretty tough,” says Fowler of northwest Indiana grappling. “You never know what you’re going to get."
“You may get a guy who’s big, burly and knows about three moves but he’ll still go with you.”
Wadkins notes that most Region wrestlers in the upper weights are juniors and seniors and Fowler held his own as an underclassman. Fowler has honed his skills with senior 195-pounder Aaron Lizardi and senior 285-pounder Keiloun Martin being his regular workout partners. He also spars regularly with assistant coach Andy Trevino. A state champion at 140 for Calumet in 1991, he has assisted Wadkins for more than a decade.
“He’s an asset in our room,” says Wadkins of Trevino. “Coaching wrestling is a young man’s game. They’re able to get on the mat with the kids."
“We’ve been very fortunate. Calumet grads or those connections to the program have shown a lot of devotion and have been good about giving back.”
Alec Noworul (Class of 2014) and Lamberto Garcia 15 are giving back as middle school coaches who also help out at high school workouts.
A.J. gives knowledge to his younger teammates by showing them the many moves he knows.
“It’s kind of like a big brother system,” says A.J., who is also sometimes joined in practice by actual brothers Nathan and Noah. Sister Felicia is the oldest of the Fowler kids and the only girl. Wadkins says she might be the toughest. Youngest Kade (Class of 2026) has yet to get too involved in wrestling.
Like his older brothers, A.J.’s matches keep his mother on the move. “She still has anxiety,” says A.J. Fowler. “She has to walk around after every match.”
Calumet has competed this season with 22 wrestlers and filled most weight divisions, even when being undersized in some of them.