Chicago Catholic League Wrestling
| | Mount Carmel wins the IHSA Class 3A State Wrestling Championship!
| | Mount Carmel wins CCL Wrestling Championship!
| | Five CCL schools capture wrestling Regional titles!
By Ed Leiser
The Chicago Catholic League’s dominance on the football field is well-documented. Not as well-known is the trickle-down effect that reaches some CCL members’ wrestling programs. A school stocked with all-state and all-city football players usually finds itself capable of achieving success on the wrestling mats as well.
St. Laurence and Mt. Carmel, well-established football powers, are good examples-the Vikings and the Caravan finished first or second in the Catholic League in wrestling every year from 1980 to ‘91, with the Vikings claiming seven CCL titles and the Caravan four. Providence was a two-sport power before joining the Catholic League and has remained one since coming aboard in 1996.
In fact, since the IHSA moved to a dual-team state series format nearly 30 years ago, Catholic League teams have finished as either a state champion or runner-up more often than any other conference.
The IHSA has had a wrestling series since the 1930s, but the Catholic League didn’t participate until it joined the association in 1974. Such standouts as heavyweight Bill Windauer, Mendel ‘68, a future Iowa and NFL star, were thus deprived of the opportunity to compete for state championships.
That changed with IHSA membership. The Catholic League has won 16 state wrestling championships overall, with Providence owning 10 of them, six since the Friars joined the Catholic League in 1996. All six came in succession under Coach Keith Healy from 1997 to 2002, one of the greatest runs in any sport in Illinois high
The other Catholic League state champs are Mt. Carmel, first atop the podium in 1992, 1993,and 1994; the Mustangs of St. Rita, who held the top spot in 2003 and 2004, and St. Laurence’s Vikings, who took home their state championship in 1990.
Many other Catholic League teams have claimed a runner-up finish, most recently the Providence Celtics in 2007-2008.
Much of Mt. Carmel’s success at the state level and beyond is attributable to one coach---Hall of Famer Bill Weick---and one family: the remarkable Williams brothers, the First Family of Chicago wrestling. Joe Williams was a six-time U.S. national champion, a two-time Big Tenchampion at Iowa and a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. Joe won four state championships for the Caravan from 1990 to 1993, losing only one match on a controversial disqualification in his high school career. His brother T.J., younger by three years, took home four state titles from 1993 to 1996 and lost just three matches while wrestling for Mt. Carmel. Oldest brother Steve’s two state titles give the Williams family a total of 10, which has to be a record. Steve Williams was only 29 and in the early stages of a coaching career when he died of a massive asthma attack in 2002.
Frank Santana, Gordon Tech ‘74, also compiled an outstanding college resume, winning one NCAA title and making All-American three times while wrestling at Iowa State.
Kevin Bracken, team captain of St. Laurence’s 1990 state champions, is another highly decorated wrestler to come out of the Catholic League. A three-time All-American and the winningest wrestler in Illinois State University history, Bracken competed in Greco-Roman wrestling at 145.5 pounds for the United States in the 2000 Olympics.
Eight years later, another former Catholic League wrestler was an Olympian: Larry Langowski of Gordon Tech competed for Mexico in Beijing.
Brother Rice has a shot at a four-time state champion: Rudy Yates became the first state champ in school history when he won the 2013 title at 106 pounds as a freshman, capping a perfect 41-0 season.