Devastation. Disaster. Destruction. All words used to describe the aftermath of the EF-4 tornado that hit vast stretches of central Illinois.
One such community that was subject to the wrath of a tornado on Sunday, November 17th was Washington, as over 400 houses were destroyed. Not just houses, but rather homes of 400 families were destroyed. Many of these homes were of current and former youth and high school wrestlers and coaches.
The tornado that ravaged Washington, a town with just over 15,000 residents, had winds of 190 mph and was on the ground for more than 45 miles. It is no wonder that approximately one-fifth of the town was damaged as a result of the massive tornado.
Bryan Medlin, the head wrestling coach at Washington High School, has been the head coach for nine years. Under Medlin’s tutelage, the program at Washington has flourished, as they have won five consecutive conference titles. The lessons, however, go beyond the wrestling mat.
“Athletics in general prepare you to get back up and resuscitate yourself. When this happened, our guys used the wrestling mentality and bounced back. They stepped up and were willing to help anyone,” said Medlin. “If something bad happens, wrestlers roll up their sleeves and help fix the problem.
“It was pretty grim for a while. Now the guys on the team are starting to see the progress that has been made. No one wants to see something like this happen, but I have no doubt that the wrestlers are going to be better people as a result when they get through this.”
Medlin, a former athlete of the United States Olympic Education Center, also serves as the head Greco-Roman coach for the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation (IKWF). Medlin notes the support he’s received from his fellow IKWF leaders and members. “It was awesome. One of my parents said he was going to get a bulldozer because there was so much rubble. I told him that he didn’t understand the manpower that we had with the wrestlers. So we pulled up with four school buses and it looked like ants moving everything to the street. It was pretty awesome.”
The IKWF, the USA Wrestling affiliate in Illinois, has experienced an incredibly successful run as of late, winning 21 out of a possible 36 national team dual championships in freestyle and Greco-Roman since 2008. Seven of these titles have come under the coaching of Medlin, who has twice been named USA Wrestling’s Cadet Greco-Roman Coach of the Year.
Jim Considine, the president of the IKWF, saw the effects of the tornado first-hand, as he assisted in clean-up efforts on Saturday, November 23rd.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. The only thing I can compare it to is pictures that we’ve seen from cities bombed in World War II,” said Considine. “In both directions, all I could see was leveled houses.”
USA Wrestling, along with assistance from All-American Wrestling Supply, donated sweatshirts for the wrestlers to assist in the clean up. “The wrestlers moved the debris of an entire house to the street in less than 20 minutes. An entire house – think about that – in less than 20 minutes,” noted Considine.
Wrestlers from around the state of Illinois weren’t the only volunteers, as multiple players from the Chicago Bears have also visited Washington to assist in the clean-up of debris.
“The Bears have been awesome. They came down to the school the week after,” Medlin said. The next week many of the Chicago Bears players wore Washington football at the press conference following the game against the St. Louis Rams.
In an attempt to directly assist the wrestling families in need, the Washington Wrestling Tornado Fund has been created. The fund, which is being administered by Matt Webster, a Washington High School alumni, has been able to provide provide housing, meals, transportation, among other things, for the victims of the tornado.
Washington Strong. The new words used to describe one of the towns hit hardest by an EF-4 tornado last month.
Donations for the effort to rebuild Washington can be sent to the following:
The Washington Wrestling Tornado Fund
PO Box 37
Speer, IL 61479