BATAVIA – First-year Batavia wrestling coach Scott Bayer worked as a consultant before becoming a teacher and coach.
While he’s not about to flip careers again anytime soon, interior design appears to be a promising fallback should anything change.
Part of Bayer’s remodeling plan for the Bulldogs includes refurbishing the wrestling room. Last season, Bayer’s seventh as a Batavia assistant, only the team name and two bulldogs were painted on the walls. These days, there are plenty more embellishments, all of them assembled to give athletes a sense of their place in a storied program.
“When they’re getting beaten on in here, when they pick their face up off the mat, when they look up, they should see something that reminds them of why they just got beaten on,” Bayer said. “Or why they’re working so hard. It’s meant to inspire, it’s meant to motivate, it’s meant to do all that.”
In addition to the more hands-on decorations – a climbing rope and pull-up bars – there are sections highlighting state qualifiers and past program greats.
Many of the athletes featured on the “Wall of Champions” competed for former Bulldogs coach Tom Arlis, whose sons, Clint and Logan, undoubtedly are part of Batavia wrestling lore.
Tom Arlis retired from coaching after Logan’s senior season in 2009-10 but elected to rejoin his one-time assistant, Bayer, who served under former coach Ben Morris the past two seasons. Morris took the coaching job at downstate Fairbury Prairie Central, saying he wanted to be closer to family.
A longtime member of the art department faculty at Naperville North, Arlis thus far has proven more influential with his emphasis on outward expression. As Saturday morning’s practice wound down, he instructed the Bulldogs to channel their best war cries during the obligatory sprints, unless they wanted to run them again.
“It’s just to make it more enjoyable, get us pumped up to do these sprints, which, by itself probably wouldn’t be a fun thing,” Batavia senior 160-pounder Jon Wagner said. “He’s trying to make it enjoyable while we’re getting in better shape.”
Wagner joins fellow seniors Joey Shump (126), Charlie Smorczewski (138) and Mickey Watson (195) as captains and team leaders.
Batavia also expected the return of emerging lower weight wrestlers Anthony Scaccia – a 3A state qualifier at 138 as a sophomore – and Laren Eustace. A standout running back and outfielder, respectively, Scaccia and Eustace chose to focus on other sports.
Although the Bulldogs harbor no resentment toward their former teammates, there remains a sense of “We’re still here” among the senior stalwarts. For Watson, a program legacy whose older brothers, Danny and Augie, shined under Arlis, the refrain is especially loud.
During the summer, Watson juggled football and club rugby practices with wrestling workouts, happily personifying the old adage about “A body in motion ...” that so far is absent from the wrestling room wall.
“You’ve got to keep going over and over again,” Watson said. “I didn’t really have that many breaks this summer. I just kept going.”
Batavia has battled lower turnouts in recent seasons, but a freshman class of 21 – composed of both first-time wrestlers and members of the Pinners youth program – has boosted the overall turnout to 40.
Bayer operates a new Batavia Park District wrestling program twice a week after high school practice, and is eager to teach the sport to an up-and-coming group.
If the kids play their takedowns right – and Bayer keeps on his active promotional path – the plan is to fill the wrestling room wall with names.
For now, it’s the high school Bulldogs’ time to enjoy the scenery.
“These guys have got to feel close together. They’ve got to feel like they’re pulling through all this together,” Bayer said. “Because if they don’t, it becomes drudgery, you know, and you can’t go down that direction.”