Markwell wrapping up stellar career
Considering Dave Markwell's background, there might not be a more unlikely wrestling Hall of Famer.
Background? The veteran Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac coach had none in the sport when he showed up for work at St. Joseph-Ogden High School in the late summer of 1984 and promptly was informed he would be the school's wrestling coach.
"I said, 'What? I've never even seen this sport,' " a flustered Markwell responded.
Thirty-three state qualifiers and 323 dual-meet victories later, it's safe to say he was a quick study in the ways of hip locks, reverse crossfaces and underhooks. And it didn't take long to hook this former basketball and baseball standout from Cumberland High and McKendree College on wrestling.
"I fell in love with the sport," Markwell said.
That love – along with his dedication and accomplishments – was appropriately recognized last fall when Markwell was selected to the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are April 18 in suburban Chicago.
"I was speechless," he said. "It was a thrill. As soon as I got off the phone, I teared up. It was very emotional for me."
Markwell is advised to brace for several more potentially tearful moments this weekend during the IHSA state meet at the Assembly Hall. He'll be introduced to the crowd along with other 2009 Hall inductees on Friday. And he'll work his final individual meet, having decided to retire after this, his 25th season of coaching the sport.
Actually, the 57-year-old had intended to call it a career last year. Then, he was talked out of it by his current seniors, who couldn't imagine wrapping up their prep careers without Markwell. He couldn't say no.
"I still love the sport, I still enjoy the kids," Markwell said.
But he's insistent this is the final farewell.
"I just don't have the energy levels I used to have," Markwell said. "It's time for younger guys to step in."
Markwell steps aside knowing how different his professional life might have been if not for the curveball thrown at him in 1984. He arrived at SJ-O two years after coaching Beecher City to a state runner-up finish in baseball and was eager to help Spartan baseball attain similar heights.
But his first spring on the SJ-O diamond would be preceded by an unexpected winter in the wrestling room. Markwell vividly remembers his introductory meeting.
"I walked in and told them, 'I don't know anything about wrestling. You teach me about wrestling and I'll get you in condition.' "
Markwell sought out multiple sources in search of wrestling knowledge, contacting area coaches like Joe Summerville of Unity and Marty Williams and Jim Risley of Mahomet-Seymour as well as official Ray Cummings.
"They all helped me out," he said.
Markwell attended plenty of coaching clinics and wrestling camps, too.
The results showed. Before moving to Oakwood in 1988, he coached the first state qualifier and first state place-winner in SJ-O wrestling history. At the Comets' helm, he's coached five regional team champions and seven state placers.
And he's never once stopped picking the brains of his peers.
"Twenty-five years later, I'm still learning," Markwell said. "I'm still trying to pick up different things. I'm still talking to coaches."
And they're talking to a Hall of Famer.
Jeff Huth is a News-Gazette staff writer. He can be reached at 217- 351-5384 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.