By Stephen Stonebraker
I’ve been to the Bloomington/Normal area of Illinois twice in my life. Both times I was there, it was for high school wrestling tournaments. In both of my visits, there were groups of people with petitions for everyone to sign for wrestling to be reinstated at Illinois State. It makes sense to me why the people of Bloomington want to see their once proud and successful team reinstated. The redbirds won eight Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles. They finished in eighth place at the 1959 NAIA tournament and they finished in fourth at the 1967 NCAA Division II tournament.
The Redbirds had many successful wrestlers and today we take a look at a few of them.
Dave Eberhard placed third at the 1967 NCAA Division II tournament as a junior. This qualified him as a wildcard entrant for the NCAA DI tournament.
A graduate of Aurora East, Chris Quigley won a junior Olympic silver medal before coming to wrestle for the Redbirds. He finished as the runner-up at the 1972 NCAA’s. Post college he had a stint in semi-professional football playing for the Calumet City Raiders. He then coached high school wrestling in Illinois.
A member of the final season, two time NCAA qualifier Kevin Bracken has been determined to reinstate wrestling at Illinois State ever since. The St. Laurence high school state champ took fifth for the redbirds at the Midlands championships and won 127 matches during his career. Post college, Bracken was an Olympian in 2000.
The Hononegan high school state champ with a 95-28 record started his career off as a Saluki at Southern Illinois-Carbondale. When SIU-C dropped their program he transferred to Illinois State and made an immediate impact by placing fifth at the NCAA championships in 1983 as a sophomore. He didn’t do quite as well in 1984 as a junior but came back strong his senior season in 1985 winning a Cliff Keen Las Vegas title & once again finishing in fifth place at the NCAA’s. Post college, Holler became a successful referee.
|167 & 177 lbs
A University High School graduate who finished with a 93-18 career record placing third at the 1968 Illinois State tournament after winning at title in 1967, Eric Bates had an outstanding career for the Redbirds. In his freshman and sophomore years, Illinois State was a Division II team. He placed sixth in 1969 & won a DII title in 1970. For his junior and senior seasons, the Redbirds moved up to Division I status. This did not phase Bates at all as he finished in fifth place at the 1971 NCAA’s and in sixth at the 1972 NCAA’s. His career for Illinois State stood at 94-14.
A three time Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion, Curt Sexton was third in the 1967 NCAA Division II tournament and second in the 1968. He also placed fourth at the Midlands championships. Post College, Sexton moved to Oregon where he coached both wrestling and Soccer at Churchill High School.
With a name that sounds more like a main character in a television series, Willie Williams came to Illinois State from Bloom Township high school. He had an outstanding career for the redbirds taking runner-up honors as a sophomore at the 1965 NAIA tournament. When Illinois State transitioned into NCAA Division II, Williams won a DII championship as a senior in 1967, also placing fifth at the NCAA Division I tournament. In these years, he also placed third twice at the Midlands.
Post college, he was an alternate on both the 1972 and 1976 Olympic teams. He then went on to coach at Hillcrest high school where in every year he qualified at least one wrestler for the state championships.
|167 & 177 lbs
A very successful career for the Redbirds, Wally Hess placed fourth at the 1958 NAIA tournament before winning an NAIA title in 1959.
As you can tell with this small history, Illinois State at one time had a great wrestling program. It’s no wonder why Kevin Bracken is so hellbent on its reinstatement.