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  • #MondayMatness with Steve Krah: Senior Bailey has already forged unprecedented career with River Forest Ingots

    By Y2CJ41
    Published in 




    Jeffrey Bailey is doing things that the wrestling program at River Forest High School in Hobart has never witnessed.

    With a 2021-22 season-opening victory (takedown/near-side cradle/pin in 31 seconds) Nov. 17 against East Chicago Central, Bailey, a 106-pound senior, added to what is already the best mark in Ingots mat history at 106-12.


    He went 35-5 as a freshman in 2018-19, 38-3 and an IHSAA State Finals qualifier as a sophomore in 2019-20, 32-4 as a junior in 2020-21 and became River Forest’s first state placer when he came in sixth.


    As a freshman, Bailey came in fifth at Frosh-Soph State and placed second at Frosh-Soph State as a sophomore.


    Bailey grappled in middle school, but he really became serious about the sport as a freshman – the same year that Mark Hidalgo became Ingots head coach.


    Hidalgo, a 1989 Merrillville High School who has coached wrestling and football at several schools the past 25 years, brought enthusiasm and made the mat matter at River Forest.


    “Before Coach Hidalgo got here we didn’t have a tradition,” says Bailey. “Guys just showed up.”


    Bailey points to a turning-point moment during his sophomore year when Hidalgo sat him down for a heart-to-heart talk.


    “He told me I have potential to do something no one has ever done in the school before,” says Bailey of the coach/Physical Education teacher. “I used to struggle with my confidence. I didn’t have confidence in anything I did.”


    Suddenly, Bailey was full of tenacity and that showed in his matches.


    “He knows wrestling, says Hildalgo of Bailey. He’s always watching it and trying to better him better. He’s pretty solid in all aspects, but he’s best on his feet.


    “He’s been shooting doubles for years. He’s added a lot more to his arsenal over the summer and in the offseason.


    “There’s a lot of good things about Jeff. He cares about this team. He pushes himself everyday in practice. He also puts in the work in the classroom. He’s a fun kid to be around. We’ve got a pretty good relationship.”


    Hidalgo placed fourth at state as a senior heavyweight. He was in football, wrestling and baseball (one year) at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., where he was coached by former Eastern Illinois University heayweight All-American Dave Klemm who had clashed with future NCAA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Bruce Baumgartner. Hidalgo was also at Purdue University for one year when  Jeff Jordan coached the Boilermakers.


    Marcus Shrewsbury, a 189-pound state champion at Crown Point in 2009, is Hidalgo’s nephew.


    The coach was on the Bill Kelly’s East Chicago Central staff when Hector Mendez ascended to the top of the IHSAA state heap at 125 in 2002.


    Hidalgo says Bailey had a real shot to win a state championship in 2021.


    “This year he’s focused,” says Hidalgo. “It’s state title or bust — one of those things.”


    Some chances for Bailey to get better and for fans to see him include Nov. 27 at the North Newton Invitational, Dec. 4 at the Harvest Classic (Lake Central), Dec. 11 at the Traicoff Memorial (Calumet New Tech), Jan. 8 at the Lake County Tournament (Hanover Central) and Jan. 15 at the Greater South Shore Conference Tournament (Hanover Central) – where River Forest will be trying of a third-straight title. The IHSAA tournament series includes the Jan. 29 Portage Sectional, Feb. 5 Hobart Regional and Feb. 12 East Chicago Semistate followed by the Feb. 18-19 State Finals at Gainbridge (formerly Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.


    Bailey says he has gotten to the point where he is good in the top wrestling position.


    “I like to turn and a I like to ride,” says Bailey. “It happened over time. My freshmen year, I gave up reversals.”


    Charles Voss, Jeffrey’s uncle, was a state qualifier at Owen Valley, but that’s the only wrestling Bailey has in his family tree.


    Jeffrey’s father – DeWayne Bailey was a high school basketball standout at Maranatha Christian in Portage and his youngest son also took the court when he was younger.


    “I tried, but I would get dejected and get mad,” says Jeffrey Bailey. “Everybody was so much bigger than me. I really couldn’t do anything.”


    At 5-foot-8, Bailey is among the taller 106-pounders and he uses those longer limbs to his advantage.


    “In scrambles I don’t get in bad positions where I’m uncomfortable,” says Bailey.


    But even with parents DeWayne and Heather preparing his meals he just wasn’t going to be that big. In fact, Jeffrey tried to add weight in the off-season and go up a class or two, but it just didn’t stick.


    “I burned too many calories,” says Bailey.


    He does go against bigger practice partners, including senior Jonathan Schultz (126), junior Alejandro Ramirez (132) and first-year Ingots assistant Eric Keith. Schultz is a semistate qualifier and Ramirez has been to regional.


    Keith was a four-time state qualifier with a state title at 140 as a Portage High School senior in 2000. His career prep mark was 170-8.


    “We have smaller guys in the room, but they don’t give me the feel that I want,” says Bailey. “Wrestling stronger guys makes me better.”


    Bailey trains and competes pretty much year-round, going to workouts around northwest Indiana and many Indiana State Wrestling Association events. Last year, he also went with Hammond Gavit grapplers to the Disney Duals.


    After high school, Bailey can see himself wrestling college if that opportunity arises. He expects to study History and pursue a path to becoming a high school Social Studies teacher and coach.


    Bailey is particularly interested in Biblical history.


    “I’m a Christian,” says Bailey. “I’m always trying to learn about my faith.”


    Jeffrey and his father have Bible study twice a week and have enjoyed a net series called “The Days of Noah.”


    Jeffrey grew up in the River Forest area with his parents and older brother DeWayne. He enjoys walking around town now and having them ask him about wrestling. It’s a big deal there now thanks in large part to Bailey, who returns the affection.


    Says Bailey, “I love my community, my parents and my coaches.”

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