One of the top high school wrestling coaches in the state for more than two decades, Edwardsville coach Jon Wagner achieved the ultimate thrill of his profession last February when Tigers wrestler Noah Surtin won the Class 3A 113-pound state championship.
That title, won at State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, was part of an emotional and stressful time for Wagner. his family and everyone associated with the Edwardsville wrestling program. Eight days earlier, on Feb. 9, the day of the IHSA sectional, Wagner underwent surgery for prostate cancer.
Now, 10 months later and cancer free, Wagner received notice recently that he has been elected into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame. Part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2019, Wagner and the other new members will be recognized during the IHSA individual state tournament, Feb. 14-16 in Champaign with the Hall of Fame banquet scheduled for early spring in suburban Chicago
A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wagner is in his 30th year of coaching and 23rd in Edwardsville. He served as an assistant under legendary Tigers coach Warren “Babe’ Stahlhut for two years before taking over as head coach in 1997.
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“What does it mean to be going into the Hall of Fame? Well, first of all, I feel very blessed that Dr. (Ed) Hightower) and Tim Dougherty, who was the athletic director at the time, gave me a chance. I was young to be a head coach, but I was in the (school) district and so they decided to give me a chance.
“I also feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to coach a lot of great kids and have great assistant coaches on the staff. We all seem to have our little niche and I think that makes it a little earlier on everyone. Not only have I had great assistant coaches but I have been fortunate to have coaches who have been with me for a long period of time. That helps and we’ve also had former wrestlers come back and help out with our program at the underclass level and our kids program.’’
Wager, 51, said he was notified as his selection by Carbondale High School coach Dennis Ragan, also a member of the Hall of Fame.
“Dennis, I guess, called me two weeks ago to congratulate me for being selected into the hall of fame.. The first thing I did was share the news with my wife and family,’’ Wagner said. “”When I first got hired,, my wife and I had a little girl with another on the way. It’s not easy being a coaches wife and there is no way possible that I would have been able to do this for 23 years without the understanding and support of my wife
“And my girls. They are 19, 22 and 25 now and are out of the house. But they were the coach’s daughters and were also understanding when I had to miss one of their events. I’m excited and looking forward to the induction.
Wagner’s coaching record speaks for itself. Under him, the Tigers have won more than 400 dual matches, 11 regional crowns and since 2000, Edwardsville has captured 13 Southwestern Conference titles.
Wagner has also coached 11 state tournament place winners and the Tigers have brought home a pair of trophies from the IHSA Dual Team State Tournament.
But last February with Wagner in his corner, Noah Surtin became the Tigers first state champion.
“It was a great night and the fact that it happened on my 51st birthday made it even more special,’’ Wagner said. “I feel good physically and like I said the cancer is gone and every check up I’ve had has been good.
“How much longer will I coach? I’m not sure. I still love coaching and being around the kids. It’s nice to win matches and watching Noah and being his coach when he won the state title was a great experience. But does winning a state title make you a great coach? There are a lot of great coaches who have never won a state title. I think its even more important for a coach to have a positive effect on the lives of these young athletes.’’