By Tim O’Brien

Michial Foy truly appreciates how much wrestling has impacted his life.

As a teenager growing up in the south suburbs, Foy was an undersized, quiet and shy student at Thornwood High School who figured he would stick with basketball as his sport.

That changed after a visit with his brother to the school’s wrestling room.

Foy gave wrestling a shot and fell in love with the sport; he hasn’t looked back since.

A two-time Olympian and Pan-American Games gold and silver medalist at the world championships, Foy has been named the head wrestling coach at Leo High School.

“Wrestling saved me,” Foy said. “I was able to travel all over the world and get my education, and it was all through wrestling. As a coach, I want to give that back to the community and the student-athletes at Leo. I want to help them develop like I did.”

The team’s previous coach, Mike Anderson, will stay on as an assistant.

A member of the Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame, Foy wrestled collegiately at the University of Minnesota. He represented the United States at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and then placed sixth as captain of the U.S. Greco-Roman team at the Barcelona games in 1992.

Foy also worked as an assistant coach at Minnesota and recently worked at Crete-Monee High School as a volunteer coach with his sons, James and Michial Jr., as they competed in the program.

Leo Principal Shaka Rawls, also a former wrestler for the Lions, said hiring Foy is a great wrestling move for a program still looking to put itself on the map.

“Being a former Leo wrestler myself, I want our wrestling program to compete at the same level as our other sports,” Rawls said in a news release. “In Mike Foy, I believe we have the ideal coach to make that happen.”

Foy knows how demanding the sport can be, but that toughness is wrestling’s appeal.

“Wrestling parallels life. Kids have an opportunity to find out who they are,” Foy said. “This is an unforgiving sport. If you don’t put the work in, it’s too hard to hide. It’s just you, your opponent and the official. No excuses. You’re out there on your own.”

The Leo wrestling program was revived three years ago after a lengthy absence. In its short time back, the Lions program saw heavyweight James Britten Jr. qualify for state in 2015. Leroy Henry reached the sectional finals in 2016.

Foy’s mindset as a first-year coach is to build up the athletes and the program as a whole by instilling a positive mindset. It all starts with practice and conditioning.

“Wrestling turned my life around. It can do that for you as a kid,” Foy said. “You may not know the strength you have. Then it can all be worth it. A coach can’t do it for you. You’re out there for six minutes, and you can’t blame anyone else. Take the ownership of practice and be accountable for the learning process.”

Foy earned his Pan-Am Games gold medal and his world championships silver medal in 1989. He has also won five U.S. national championships in Greco-roman wrestling, a bronze medal in the 1990 World Cup and a fifth-place finish at the 1994 world championships.

Continuing his career as a coach, Foy can’t wait for winter and the start of the season.

“Wrestling is more than a sport. It’s a discipline,” Foy said. “I’m so excited about being here at Leo, a school with such a strong tradition. I want to build the program into a state team. The kids have to fight and need direction, but they’re right there. They have the courage and won’t back down.”