By Rich Bauer
Vandalia wrestlers from several generations joined together last Thursday to celebrate the VCHS program becoming the ninth in state history to accumulate 1,000 wins.
The Vandals reached the 1,000-win plateau after the first win in a triangular in which they defeated Litchfield and Highland.
The list of programs with 1,000 wins as of last week includes:
1) Granite City-1,529
3) Lyons Township-1,140
5) Glenbard North-1,054
6) Moline 1,033
The Vandals list includes the two wins last Thursday and wins over Auburn and Murphysboro, but not any wins Petersburg-Porta may have picked up since last Thursday.
Vandals wrestling head coach Jason Clay said he expects other programs to join the 1,000-win list this season.
Of those on the list, Vandalia and Petersburg-Porta are the only small schools. Clay said that Harvard and Mahomet-Seymour have been classified as small schools, but have grown in recent years.
Talking about how special it is to reach the 1,000-win plateau, Clay talked about how he explained it to this year’s wrestlers.
“What I told the kids to take away from tonight is, our wrestling program is a lot bigger than you guys.
“You have got a chance to write your own page, but there’s a lot of people in this community and around this area that have been part of this program, and it’s a really neat thing to see all of them come together, people who have put in a lot of work to get 1,000 wins,” he said.
Clay can take pride in being part of that win total both as a player and coach.
The 1998 graduate of VCHS wrestled during his high school years, and also in college, then served as an assistant under Glenn Exton for four years and has been the head coach since 2006-07.
Of the 1,003 wins, more than 450 of those have come during Clay’s tenure as the head coach of the wrestling program.
“I feel like I have been part of the program for probably 30 years now, as a wrestler and as a fan and as a coach, and had a brother who wrestled through the program,” Clay said.
“I have a lot of lifelong friends still to this day that we know through wrestling, built those relationships, and I’m glad that the coaches recruited me out to be a part of it.
“At first, I was kind of resistant, but I’m glad I listened, and it’s been a huge part of my life and this program is big to me.
“I appreciate all of the work that goes into it and all of the people who contribute,” Clay said.
“I hope these kids get the same experience that I got and they feel the same way about things when they graduate from here, too,” he said.
About celebrating 1,000 wins in front of a big crowd, Clay said, “It’s fun to see that there’s a lot of people who just came out tonight to watch, and it’s fun to expose our people to our sport.
“It’s really a great sport, and as people learn more bout it, they really get into it, seeing their friends compete,” he said.
“Obviously, the season is going well and we’ve got a chance to do well here the last couple of months, and I’m excited for that, but it is special to see the old-timers and the recent graduates come back, and kids you’ve coached, guys you wrestled with and then people that you watched when you were younger and/or people you look up to, guys that have coached, like Coach Exton and Bob Culbertson and Merle Adermann, just some of the guys that I look up to for what they did for the program when I was in school.
“We’ve got a lot of special guys who have given a lot of time and hard work, it makes me proud to see that,” Clay said.