Illinois wrestling looks to grow fan base in first dual matches

At the Chicago Quad this weekend, Illinois assistant wrestling coach Mark Perry wants his team to do more than just defeat the competition. He wants to build the Illini fan base.

The Illinois wrestling team will travel up to Frankfurt and Lombard, Ill., on Saturday for its first dual meets of the season against Arizona State, SIU Edwardsville and Ouachita Baptist. Before the meet, though, Perry will conduct a kids wrestling clinic for pre-high school wrestlers to demonstrate the system and culture of Illinois wrestling to younger fan base. His goal is to raise awareness of the growing success of the Illinois wrestling team and get people more excited about the sport.

“We are just going to expose them to what Illinois wrestling is about,” Perry said. “And really just show the people of Chicagoland how we run our system and these are the expectations of the program.”

Along with building the younger fan base, Perry wants to attract recruits in attendance at the meet to Illinois.

“I just want them to be inspired and see what high-level wrestling is all about,” Perry said. “The Big Ten is like the SEC in football, but it’s even more powerful. Eight of your top-10 teams are in this conference. So it is getting them exposed and letting them know that we want to be at the top of that heap.

If we wrestle an aggressive style and they see something they like, hopefully that will benefit us down the road.”

Proceeds raised from the meet will go to benefit the Chasing the Dream Fund, which raises money for the Olympic regional training center. The center’s purpose is to train post-graduates like B.J. Futrell and eventually 125-pound Jesse Delgado for the Olympics in 2016.

Delgado has built a close relationship with Perry and believes the way he interacts with people is what will help him attract people to Illinois.

“He’s a people person, so he is easy to relate to, and it’s really easy for him to talk to people,” Delgado said. “I think that is what makes him such a good coach.”

Delgado will take to the mat in his first dual meet competition since winning his national title. After calling the Loras Open a “tune-up” for the team, he expects the competition to be a bit tougher this week, especially from Division-I Arizona State. And now that he is a national champion, he expects to get everybody’s best during matches.

“I think more people are going to be ready,” Delgado said. “I’m not going to have any matches where people are going to take me lightly.”

According to Perry, Delgado has added a new arsenal of mat and leg moves over the summer as he looks to capture a second national title and move toward competing at the Olympics.

Perry believes that Delgado’s summer was his best at Illinois so far. Delgado’s individual national championship will also help the team attract recruits to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a national championship as a team in a few years, and he wants to build the fan base before that happens.

“We understand that we are very young this year, but within the next two or three years we will probably be in a position to make a run for a national championship,” Perry said. “And when we are making that run, we want to have the state behind us and we want to have a fan base that is excited about that.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and @ddexter23.