The Oak Forest Warriors Wrestling Club has a new home as its 37th season begins.
Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, the city council and the park district worked together to create a practice room for the Warriors — the park district's K-8 wrestling club — in the basement. With several programs utilizing the park district facilities, space was increasingly tight for the wrestling program.
Warriors Board President Steve Stump appreciates what Kuspa has done to help the situation.
"He brought us down here (to the city hall basement) to see if the space was right," Stump said. "After we decided it was, he helped get a lot of the materials donated."
"Hank is for the kids," Warriors head coach Dan Walters said. "We're lucky to have him in our corner."
The city and created a $5,000 budget for the project, and the rest of the materials and labor were donated.
Local businesses Linear Electric, Simon Plumbing and K&S Heating and Cooling helped out with utilities. Building Commissioner Gary Gerdes and his brother Tom, a Warriors coach, framed the 3,000-square-foot room. The Warriors coaches and parents performed the finishing touches, including painting and hanging the padding on the walls.
"We put the whole thing together in 30 days," Stump said. "It was a real team effort. We'd especially like to thank Mayor Kuspa and Building Commissioner Gerdes for helping coordinate the effort."
The Warriors have practiced in the gymnasium at the main park district building, at 15701 S. Central Ave., since the building opened in the 1970s. A lot of programs share the gym during the winter season — including gymnastics, volleyball and basketball — and the park district also provides a lot of time for open gym.
Last season, the varsity team moved practices to on Laramie, while the junior team remained at the park district two nights a week. The switch provided a little relief in the gym but did not allow the flexibility the team has with the new space.
"It's great to have our own space," Walters said. "It gives us flexibility to add practices when we need to. We would have missed a practice this week because of Thanksgiving, but thanks to the new room, we just moved the practice to Friday."
The Warriors enter the 2010-2011 season with 75 wrestlers. They have a young group in the varsity room, but Walters is optimistic.
"This is a very hard-working group," he said. "Every kid shows up for practice and knows what is expected of him."
The lone returning state qualifier is eighth grader Bill Sheehy, but Walters expects more success from this group.
"We had a few kids last year who were very close to breaking through," he said. "They are back this year, ready to take the next step.
"I think we're going to have some surprises at the end of the season — a couple of high-placing kids that no one sees coming."
The Warriors are a volunteer organization. Walters is assisted in the varsity room by Tom Gerdes, Steve Leveille, Bill Sheehy, Bill Graziano and Stump.
The junior team head coach is John Barker, and the assistants are James Crnich, Bob Boss and Gregg Crnich.
Many of the coaches double as board members. Stump is the president, Sheehy is the vice president, Leveille is the treasurer, Todd O'Rourke is the secretary, and Graziano, Barker and Gregg Crnich round out the board.