He is almost too good to be true. Nobody could be that great. But ask any wrestler, former wrestler, parent or coach who knows him; Mike Powell is just that great.
Powell, as we call him, like Cher or Hulk or Rock, is the head coach at Oak Park-River Forest High School. He won Coach of the Year for Illinois in 2009, and when I asked him about it, he said, “About time.”
He has always followed up and followed through, more than you would think possible for someone who met these teenagers for the first time when they walked into his wrestling room the first day of practice. He talked to them like a friend, not a youth minister. He spoke their language, cursed sometimes, didn’t hold back, didn’t preach. On the Huskies wrestling website was the tag line, “In Powell we trust.”.
“He invests his everything in us,” one wrestler told me.
Powell brought the team from not being ranked in the state to being team state champions, undefeated for the season in 2009, the best team in the state, awarded a trophy with all the wrestlers’ names engraved on the front. It was the first team championship for the school in more than a dozen years for any sport, the first ever for wrestling.
“Call Powell and tell him,” I said when Weldon told me the news that he won a prestigious scholarship to study abroad the summer after his college freshman year.
“I called him first,” he said.
I wasn’t hurt.