Ray Soto said he still distinctly recalls the goosebumps as he weighed in at Assembly Hall in Champaign upon qualifying for the IHSA state wrestling finals as a senior.
There’s a good chance those goosebumps return for Soto tonight.
Soto, the lone IHSA wrestling state champion in Geneva history, is set to be inducted into the Vikings’ Athletic Hall of Fame at halftime of tonight’s boys basketball game against Quincy.
A Class of 1990 Geneva graduate, Soto defeated an opponent from Kewanee in the 171-pound championship bout by a 10-6 score. The title capped a 36-5 senior season for Soto.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget,” Soto said. “I can pretty much recall from the minute I got down to the state finals, all the way through. It was a unique experience, and one that I almost had the opportunity to do twice, but I hurt my knee my junior year, and the guy I beat early in the season placed third, so I would like to think I would have qualified twice or possibly won it twice, but who’s to know? But I remember it as if it was yesterday.”
Soto said the discipline demanded in wrestling helped set him on a course that included a stint in the Marine Corps and, later, roles as a firefighter in St. Charles and his current position as a paramedic for a private ambulance company in Elgin.
Soto said he continued wrestling for a few years after his graduation for his Marines base team in Japan, but it’s been about 20 years since wrestling a competitive match.
He certainly doesn’t miss fretting about his weight.
“The sport goes from November to February so you’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas and all that, so trying to stay at weight and keep weight off [was the hardest part],” Soto said. “There were times you’d be a pound or two overweight so you’d have to put the sauna suit on and sweat a couple pounds out.”
In addition to wrestling, Soto competed in football and track and field for the Vikings.
Soto, who lives in Geneva and has returned to school for a nursing program at Waubonsee Community College, said he was “completely emotional” after winning the state title under coach Jon Schaus.
More than two decades later, his place in Vikings history is solidified.
“I’m actually really excited,” Soto said. “My girlfriend had told me about the induction on my birthday last year and it’s one of those things, it was a shock. I’m not really in to being on display. I told my girlfriend, I don’t like to feel like I brag about anything, and she said it was an accomplishment I should be proud of. I’m kind of excited, but being in front of a crowd kind of makes me nervous sometimes. I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful experience.”
Vikings 1962-63 basketball team also to be honored: Joining Soto as an inductee tonight will be the 1962-63 Vikings basketball team.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of that team reaching the Elite Eight in the first IHSA basketball finals weekend to take place at then brand-new Assembly Hall.
The Vikings, coached by Mel Johnson, won 28 consecutive games during the season, leading up to a state quarterfinal loss against eventual champion Carver, 57-50.
The first unbeaten Little Seven Conference season in Geneva history was also the only time the Vikings have won 30 games in a season or advanced to a state quarterfinal.
The team’s starting five – center Bob Johansen, forwards Tom Busch and George Peck and guards Pete Burgess and Dick Krell – are scheduled to be in attendance tonight, in addition to reserves Bob Liden, Rick Tornberg, Mike McCleary and Chuck Radovich and assistant coach Bob Schick and Bill Owen.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.