A South Elgin wrestling team stopped in Collinsville for dinner after a match in Granite City, but came out to an unpleasant surprise.
Someone had broken into their van and stolen all their gear. Uniforms, headgear, wrestling shoes, even the students’ personal items like headphones, wallets and cell phones were gone, according to a page set up by one of the team parents.
“These disgusting individuals made out with most of the kids’ gear,” wrote Alex Lopez, self-identified “wrestling dad” on a GoFundMe page set up to fund replacement of the equipment. “I am sick to my stomach just thinking about it.”
According to the GoFundMe page, the South Elgin varsity wrestling team competed in the Granite City Holiday Tournament on Friday. On their way home, they stopped at Applebee’s in Collinsville. When they left the restaurant, they discovered the van had been burglarized.
Collinsville Police spokesman Major Brett Boerm said patrol officers were already in the area after they were alerted to the presence of a red Jeep Grand Cherokee with tinted windows that had been seen in the area during multiple vehicle burglaries in recent months. They were flagged down by the South Elgin team members who showed them the burglarized van.
Patrol officers saw the Jeep in question near Zapata’s restaurant on Eastport Plaza Drive, but the Jeep fled onto Interstate 55-70. According to police, they briefly pursued, but then discontinued the chase.
The vehicle has been seen on multiple surveillance cameras and is described as a red Jeep Cherokee in the 2006-2010 range with tinted windows. It usually does not have a front license plate and the rear plate is believed to be stolen.
A printing company has offered to print and replace the wrestling uniform singlets worn by the team, according to the Chicago Tribune. The GoFundMe account has raised $5,370 of a $5,500 goal as of Tuesday afternoon — nearly $1,000 on Tuesday alone, Lopez said.
The team leaders have promised that the funds also will go to replace the boys’ personal items such as their cell phones and tablets, according to the Chicago Tribune. Some of them had been Christmas presents, and the team members pay for their own shoes and headgear, they wrote.
One student had almost all his Christmas presents in his wrestling bag, Lopez said: new wrestling shoes, headgear, and a new tablet. Those aren’t cheap, Lopez said: the shoes alone cost families $150 each.
“It’s been pretty rough the last couple of days,” Lopez said. “They’ve been practicing in socks.”
The plan is for the families to buy new gear and provide receipts to be reimbursed from the fund, Lopez said. At this point, he is hopeful they will have enough raised to reimburse everyone for what they lost — about $6,000 estimated. The team is proceeding on the assumption that nothing will be recovered, Lopez said.
“The wrestling community is a very tight-knit community, and we help each other out,” Lopez said. “I’ve gotten donations from as far away as California.”
In the meantime, morale is holding steady, Lopez said.
“The kids are resilient,” he said. “Some lost more than others, but ... they know they have support from the community. They’re appreciative of that.”
Anyone with information on the identity of the suspects or owners of the vehicle is asked to contact Lt. Charles Mackin at 344-2131, ext. 5130 or Crimestoppers at 866-371-8477.