This month 29 years ago, Bill Cartwright was sitting atop the Illinois high school wrestling world. On Feb. 23, 1991, his Pirates won their 10th state wrestling title after dominating Waukegan 35-16 on the campus of Illinois State University. The title was their second in the dual team format in five years, according to a Chicago Tribune article published at the time. In March of that year, the men’s varsity basketball Pirates would go on to win the state title.
Things nowadays aren’t what they were at Proviso East. Last month, the wrestling team held its final home meet of the season — the once mighty program a shadow of its former self. There are fewer wrestlers, less excitement.
Bill Cartwright, however, hasn’t gone anywhere. Last month’s meet, held Jan. 24, marked Cartwright’s 50th season as a wrestling coach. Glenn Lid, the Golden Apple chemistry teacher who also coaches baseball and golf at East, marked his 40th year coaching Pirates wrestling.
“The school’s changed since I started in 1970,” Cartwright said during an interview hours before last month’s meet. “We’re not getting the numbers we used to get.”
Cartwright and Lid said that the formation of Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park has cut into wrestling participation. So has the increasing prevalence of specialization among youth athletes, who are more likely to participate in a single sport throughout the year than divvy up their time in multiple activities.
Cartwright said he’s stayed on as assistant wrestling coach despite retiring some 16 years ago, because of the kids — and his friendship with Lid, who considers the Hall of Fame coach a mentor. Both men have been inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame.
“Everything I learned is from Cartwright,” Lid said. “Not just in wrestling, but in how to deal with kids, in general. I can remember one time as a young coach, we were at a dinner and I was complaining that parents and kids don’t appreciate all you do and he said, ‘That’s not what you’re here for. You’re not here for their appreciation. You’re here to make them better, make them grow and make them believe in themselves.’ From that point on, I realized what my job is as a coach.”
Lid, 62, and Cartwright, 72, both lauded the merits of wrestling, which they said teaches toughness, strength, stamina and endurance — skills that crossover to all the other sports. Decades ago, the coaches recalled, recruitment meant visiting gym classes in the elementary feeder schools, where talent abounded.
“Ninety percent of our kids would come from gym classes,” Cartwright recalled. “I’d go to each gym class, talk to the kids and we’d always get 30 or 40 of them coming out for the sport. We’d fill all levels. So, we’ve had some good athletes over the years.”
Lid and Cartwright have coached Division 1 wrestlers and All-Americans like two-time state champ Reggie Wright, but their attention nowadays is focused on cultivating promising young talent like senior Kurt Palmer, who said the two coaches are like father figures.
“They’ve played a big part and helped me with my mentality to be tougher physically and mentally,” Palmer said last month. “They’re like parents.”
Sophomore Terrence Lewis said that Cartwright and Lid “mean a lot to me. They taught me ways I can get better and helped me through my wrestling career.”
Cartwright said that the current crop of Pirate wrestlers has shown promise and improvement under head coach Daniel Sutton. And as long as Sutton allows, Carwright and Lid said, they’ll continue to coach.
“As long as Sutton lets us do it and I’m good to do it health-wise, I’ll do it,” Cartwright said. “Sutton is a good guy. I don’t try to take over and neither does Glenn. We know what we’re up against with the small numbers, so it’s a slow process. We’re trying to make these new kids interested in the sport and develop them from there. It’s hard work.”