Two years ago, Roncalli Athletic Director David Lauck took a chance on a young man who was short on head coaching experience but long on vision. Today, Wade McClurg is leading the “Southside REBELlion” to heights the wrestling program has not seen in many years. Typical of the sport he coaches, his keys to success have been an unwavering commitment, tireless work ethic, and focusing daily on the fundamentals. While this is typical of most successful coaches, McClurg has one thing going for him that most others can only dream of: a support network consisting of nearly his entire family, permeating all levels of his program. Roncalli wrestling is truly a family affair for both the coaches and young men under their charge. Just two years in, the results of this new culture are already staggering.
The “all-in” approach displayed by the McClurg family is something years in the making. They were first introduced to wrestling around 25 years ago. When Wade’s older brother, Kyle, was cut from the seventh grade basketball team, he decided to give a new sport a go. Following in his footsteps, a five-year-old Wade hit the mat for the first time that same year. Even though they had zero background in wrestling, his parents, Jeff and Apryl, threw themselves into it. They would go on to serve over a decade on the Indiana State Wrestling Association’s executive board. Wade’s younger brother, Riley, ended up being the most accomplished wrestler in the family, claiming the 2013 IHSAA State Championship at 160 lbs. and wrestling at the Division I level in college.
After finishing his career at Beech Grove High School, Wade matriculated to the University of Indianapolis. He began wrestling his freshman year, but soon decided it was time to transition into the world of coaching. His focus shifted to helping Riley and working for the Central Indiana Academy of Wrestling. Five years later, he was offered a position with Carmel High School and the Carmel USA Wrestling Club. With three years of high school coaching experience under his belt, he decided the time was right to begin building his own program.
In his interview with Lauck, he laid out a plan on how he would not only improve a squad coming off of a losing season, but build a program which would produce sustained success.
“Our wrestling program was lacking an identity. Wade had a vision and plan for what the program would look like, and that is why he was hired,” Lauck recalled.
This plan was and is centered around two key pillars: control the controllables and build the program from the grassroots up. “In the room,” wrestlers are expected to work hard and be coachable. Coaches are expected to demand their best, but also treat each athlete as a valued member. The grassroots program is designed to instill the values and work ethic necessary to be successful in both wrestling and life. With Riley by his side, Wade immediately set about turning his vision into reality.
“We have stressed attitude and effort at all levels of our program, because we believe those are two things that you can always control,” McClurg explained. “Our coaching staff put in a great ‘off-season’ with the team (before 2016-17), and we knew that we had a lot of guys that were capable. My goal throughout the season was focused solely on getting better every day. We did a great job as a staff by creating really good relationships with our athletes from Day 1, and we believe that led to more self-confidence and resulted in hard wrestling.”
The results substantiated the logic. The Rebels finished McClurg’s first season with a 19-3 record, #15 state ranking, conference and sectional championships, two IHSAA state medalists, and the school’s first state champion (Alec Viduya) since 1985.
Congruently, McClurg was working tirelessly to develop the Rebel Wrestling Foundation (RWF). The RWF is a year-round program designed to supplement the work of the south deanery CYO coaches and build a strong and healthy youth-wrestling culture. Beginning with kids as young as kindergartners, the physical skills and mindset McClurg wants to see in his Roncalli wrestlers are modeled and preached by the high school coaching staff and program alumni.
“From a wrestling standpoint, we want to teach our kids from a very young age to attack at a high rate and to score a lot of points, because it is very hard to teach someone in high school that has never attacked to attack. From an academic standpoint, we want to instill skills such as, faith, love, confidence, discipline, work-ethic, commitment, and perseverance, because they need these skills to become lifelong learners. From a life standpoint, we want to teach kids to love the sport and most importantly love the process. Everybody loves to win, but winning cannot be controlled by any single human being or organization. The process can be controlled through your attitude and effort. We believe if you love the process, getting your hand raised at the end of matches will come.”
This holistic approach has been further strengthened by the McClurgs’ “family approach.” Riley coaches the youth program beside his brother. Kyle serves as the program’s IT specialist, running their website and social media presence. His son, Oliver, competes on the team. Grandma Apryl and Grandpa Jeff wash the singlets, mop the mats, run the tournaments, handle the communications with the parents, etc. – basically are everywhere, all of the time. Couple this with the fact that most of the other RWF volunteer assistant coaches are there coaching their sons and nephews, and it is easy to understand how this has quickly become bigger than just wrestling.
“While all wrestling clubs have practices, RWF is one of the few to have cookouts, auctions, and golf outings as well. Events like these not only raise funds for the club, but they bring together the coaches, wrestlers, and their families,” explained Sam Hansen, a senior on the varsity team and two-time defending Marion County Champion. Both he and his younger brother, Luke (St. Roch, 7th grade), have been members of the program since McClurg arrived. “The Roncalli community is certainly blessed to have so many well-centered families. Coach uses this to his advantage to strengthen our whole team. Many programs focus only on the individuals, but the focus of the RWF is far greater than that.”
“Pope John XXIII once said, ‘Family is the first essential cell of human society,’” quoted McClurg. “In order to build a successful program, you must be surrounded by a whole lot of like-minded people. My family is very like-minded, especially when it comes to the sport of wrestling. They understand the level of hard work and commitment that it takes to run a wrestling program at a high level.”
One of the most important members of the McClurg family is Wade’s wife, Ashley. She serves as the Rebellettes’ coach and manages “a ton of the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes stuff.”
“My wife, Ashley, is an amazing and selfless individual. We will be in a gym all day Saturday with the high school team, and then she will get up and go with me all day Sunday to support our youth program at a tournament. Without her love and support for me and our wrestlers, a lot of what we have accomplished as a program thus far wouldn’t have been possible. She has been coined as the ‘First Lady of Roncalli Wrestling’, and I am the luckiest man alive to have her in that role.”
“It is not always easy being a coach’s wife,” Ashley confided. “It’s late nights, weekends spent in gyms, phone calls/texts all the time, and a lot of time and dedication each and every day. Being ‘all-in’ has many definitions, but in this case it means wanting to be a part of everything. It’s understanding the crazy schedules and long weekends wrestling in a gymnasium. It’s sometimes really getting into a match and cheering too loud. It’s wanting to be a part of the journey, wanting to be supportive, and wanting to share in the excitement as the program grows.”
“We make a pretty good team,” Wade assessed.
As McClurg’s second varsity season at the helm of the Roncalli wrestling program is coming to a close, it is readily apparent AD Lauck made an outstanding hire. The program boasts numbers of close to 250 members between Roncalli, the south deanery CYO teams, and the RWF. They have won several state titles and consistently sent young men to compete at the regional and national levels. The varsity squad is sending all fourteen of its members through to this weekend’s regional and has a chance to break a school record for IHSAA tournament state finalists. There is a tangible buzz about Rebel wrestling in the community. Most importantly, it is the type of program parents want their sons to participate in because they see the quality of the young men it is producing. This is thanks in large part to the work of the entire McClurg family.
“Wrestling is becoming cool again at Roncalli.”