By Dane Fuelling
Decades ago, the stretch of land from Fort Wayne to Muncie was the heart of high school wrestling in Indiana. Storied programs like Bellmont, Delta and the now-shuttered high schools of Muncie South and Muncie North won 11 of the twenty-one state championships from 1974 to 1994. Since Bellmont’s title in 1994, the area has fallen behind the rest of the state. While plenty of wrestling fans around the state like to talk about the struggles of the Fort Wayne area, two men have taken big steps in their lives to put actions where others will only speak words.
Wade McClurg has been hired to a new dual position in the Indiana Tech athletic program. He will simultaneously be assistant coach for the Warrior program and the head of its new Warrior Regional Training Center.
“With the Warrior RTC,” says McClurg, “we have an opportunity to positively impact hundreds of boys and girls in the Fort Wayne community and surrounding area through the sport of wrestling. In return, we will not only have the ability to produce elite athletes, but we will strive to form servant-leaders and mold outstanding individuals through the world’s oldest and greatest sport.”
On the other side of town, coach Andy Oberlin has opened a new wrestling-focused facility on Goshen Road, not far from the Zoo in Fort Wayne. Oberlin has invested much of his own personal money and time into a venture that has no guarantee of success. It is a new idea for the city, a place for clubs and teams to host camps, retreats and for visiting coaches to hold clinics.
Oberlin has hooked up with ONE for sponsorship and his facility has new wall mats and wrestling mats being installed this week. He has enlisted the help of Anton Talamantes, one of the city’s all-time wrestling greats, to host the very first clinic at his facility. That will take place on June 12th.
Coach McClurg was a graduate of Beech Grove High School in Indianapolis who went on to wrestle for the Greyhounds of the University of Indianapolis. In five years at the helm of the Roncalli program, McClurg won 84 duals with 18 losses and had 17 state qualifiers, including three state champions. He qualified for Team State in his final four seasons and won a semi-state title in 2019.
With all that time spent on the south side of Indy, moving to Fort Wayne will be a big change for the coach. A state of the art, 25,000 square feet facility was a good place to start.
For Oberlin, Fort Wayne is home and since wrestling against two-time state champion Tim Myers multiple times in his high school career at DeKalb High School, Oberlin has also seen the drop in competitiveness in the area.
“The question is whether we have gotten worse or everyone else has gotten better,” says Oberlin. “But I think it is a combination of both.”
Oberlin feels that the strong group of wrestlers out of Griffith High School in the early 2000s, which included current IU head coach Angel Escobedo, transformed high school wrestling in Indiana and created a new, higher ceiling.
“We have so many more kids competing nationally,” he says. “Just look at how many D1 wrestlers we have produced now. Things are so much more competitive now than they were 25 years ago.”
Both Oberlin and McClurg see potential for the sport in the state’s largest school district, Fort Wayne Community Schools.
“Kids today need to see some success to get hooked on the sport,” declares Oberlin. “And when you try to get them to start the sport in high school, there isn’t much of a chance for success against experienced wrestlers. We need to change that.”
McClurg’s program will open in September, and with established men’s and women’s wrestling teams at the school, things might just be looking up for wrestling in our area.