GENEVA – Rodney Bradberry occasionally dines with the man who gave him his first pair of wrestling shoes more than three decades ago.
Bradberry sees his oldest son, Nick, at Geneva Middle School South wrestling practice every afternoon.
He routinely addresses both men as “Coach.”
Assisting his son for the second consecutive season, Rodney Bradberry minces but one word in the mat room or during matches. The same goes for Nick Bradberry, whose diligence in building a program for which he once competed happily comes alongside his dad, er, counterpart.
“Calling him ‘Coach’ instead of ‘Dad’ is more like, ‘Hey, we’re here,’ ” Nick Bradberry said. “Yes, we’re father and son, but we’re also here. We’re here to work. We’re coaches right now. We’re putting our relationship aside and we’re going to work together as coaches.”
Turns out those titles are mutually exclusive, even in a wrestling-rich family.
Mitch Bradberry, 22, shined at Geneva until his 2011 graduation, closing his career with a sectional berth at 152 pounds as a senior. He followed his father, 48, into the sport. Rodney Bradberry competed as a middle schooler in Hillside – his first coach, Jim Schwartz, donated the shoes – and later wrestled at Proviso West until injuries took a toll.
“I hurt my shoulder,” Rodney Bradberry said, “and that’s all she wrote.”
Nick Bradberry uses the same idiom when discussing how he became GMS South’s coach.
His dad, now an eighth-year volunteer assistant, was aiding William Bates before Bates elected to leave teaching and coaching.
Rodney Bradberry knew someone who’d be a great fit for the job.
“Put my name in, I ended up interviewing and that’s all she wrote,” Nick Bradberry said.
Neither Bradberry man teaches at GMS South. Nick Bradberry graduated early from Western Illinois and works as a loss prevention supervisor at the St. Charles Kohl’s while he tests for nearly any suburban police force with an opening.
Rodney Bradberry has been with the Hillside Fire Department for 20 years. Sometimes, GMS South meets overlap with his shifts, but he’s usually able to get coverage before returning to duty after the team competes.
“It’s time-consuming,” Rodney Bradberry said, “but I wouldn’t change it for the world, that’s for sure.”
A team of 26 wrestlers notices and appreciates its coaches’ dedication. Some even extend it far beyond the mat room.
Jace Black, a seventh-grader who competes at 95 pounds, estimates he hasn’t trick-or-treated in two or three years and said he wasn’t prone to stuffing himself at Thanksgiving, either. Black, too, comes from a mat family – his father, Jason, wrestled at Kaneland – but still admits he was fighting boredom within the sport until he encountered the Bradberrys last year, his eighth in wrestling.
“These two really brought it back, just because they know about the sport and they’re really good at knowing it,” Black said.
The Bradberrys talk shop at practice, naturally, but also when Nick heads to his boyhood home for a visit. It’s hard to avoid. Sue Bradberry, Nick’s mom, developed an affinity for the sport when Nick and her youngest son, Mitch, a 2015 Geneva graduate who qualified for the 3A state tournament as a 182-pound senior, represented the Vikings.
Many times, the subject of Nick and Rodney Bradberry’s conversations about what to tackle next with the team is unspoken.
One coach notices some wrestlers are crossing their feet in their stances or not properly locking certain holds. The other acknowledges him instantly and concurs. Refining that technique now will be a part of the next practice.
“I know the pressures they’re going through from sixth grade to then those eighth-graders who are like, ‘Oh, [crud], I’ve got high school next year,’ “ Nick Bradberry said. “So I try to relate with them. I try to make academics important as well as coaching and just trying to show them that, hey, being part of a sport is not only going to make you a better athlete, but it’s going to make you a better student, a better individual overall.”
Nick Bradberry organized a summer camp for current and prospective GMS South wrestlers during June, July and August. The Illinois Elementary School Association recently extended wrestling to sixth-graders, not just students in seventh and eighth grades.
The Bradberrys believe starting young is crucial to cultivating a lasting love of wrestling. It provides early exposure to technique, conditioning and even a wisecrack or two.
At least that’s how the father-son Bradberry team – or son-father, in this instance – plays it.
“I joke with the kids,” Rodney Bradberry said. “I always tell them, ‘He’s the boss and he’s coach. He’s not my kid here in the room.’ But I said if he yells at me, I can tell his mom. Then he will get in trouble.”