Huntley wrestling coach BJ Bertelsman says he likes watching things grow from nothing into something.
Normally that has to do with his gardening hobby, but in his sixth year as the Red Raiders head coach, Bertelsman saw the program, which has been steadily growing, flourish with a number of firsts: a best-ever fith-place finish at the challenging Dvorak Tournament, a first Fox Valley Conference dual title, a first regional title and a program-best five state qualifiers.
For those accomplishments, Bertelsman was voted the 2017 Northwest Herald Wrestling Coach of the Year, as selected by the sports staff with input from his peers.
Bertelsman recently spoke with reporter John Wilkinson about his green thumb, which kids drove him the craziest and more.
You guys accomplished a lot this year, what was your favorite moment?
Bertelsman: I think sectionals. Winning regionals was cool, I kind of thought we could have done that and it was very possible. But I think sectionals when we got our fifth guy in (to state) it was pretty cool to see. I think we tied Deerfield for most out of that sectional. That’s pretty cool, because we live for February. If you look at us over the past four or five years, February is when we wake up and really go to work.
Which kid on your team drove you the craziest?
Bertelsman: Oh man. There’s different types of crazy. Jimmy Pellegrino, Josh Stenger is a different type of crazy. This year those are two good ones. Like I said, two different types of crazy.
Which kid made you laugh the most?
Bertelsman: Juan Quiroz has the strangest humor in the world. To this day I don’t know if I’ll ever get half of it. … Juan’s got a really good personality, so I think him and his weirdness make me laugh the most.
If you were in charge of wrestling for a day, what would you change about high school wrestling?
Bertelsman: At least in Illinois, I’d make it an individual one-tier tournament, a one-class tournament individually, champion takes all. California does that right now and if California can do it — they have a lot more high schools than we do — I think we could probably do it. Keep team state multi-division but that would definitely be cool to see a champions tournament. Also out-of-bounds scoring like college. If you watch the NCAA matches, those matches hardly stop because they keep going and I think it would be great if we could score out of bounds unlike what we can do now.
If you’re driving the bus to a tournament, what do you put on the radio?
Bertelsman: I don’t know, I kind of like putting on today’s music so the kids can sing a little bit. But when we go on longer trips and they all fall asleep I usually go classic rock or stadium rock.
I know the kids are more superstitious, but do you have any superstitions as a coach?
Bertelsman: Myself and coach (Rich) Tado, I always sit to his left when we’re in the chairs. Usually if I have a good shoe/sock combo going I won’t mess with it. If it’s a two-day tournament and I don’t get home in time I do have to switch it out. That’s about it. I know when I was a wrestler I was a lot different than I am now as a coach with superstitions, but not so many as a coach.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Bertelsman: Oh so many. In the class room, the water bottles. Playing with water bottles, popping gum, those can get me 0 to 100 in a minute. In the wrestling room, just kid that when they think you’re looking away they stop doing stuff.
What do you think you’ve gotten better at as a coach the longer you’ve done this?
Bertelsman: It may seem bad but delegating jobs, which I still have to improve on. When I came in at the early beginning I was the only one in building and then I became one of two coaches, one of three coaches. I felt that I had to do everything my way or it was’t going to get done and I really just wore myself to the ground. Now I have coach Tado, who does a lot of the technique. Coach Lachel, who does a lot of the underclassmen and is big into watching film and helping guys break down film and stuff. And I’m a sucker for paperwork and I love getting my schedule tougher and tougher every year, I think that’s what separates us in the end. I even made a big score last week to make our schedule even tougher next year, almost to the point where I’m being unfair to the kids.
What do you do when you’re not at school or coaching wrestling?
Bertelsman: I don’t remember. Gosh, I don’t have much down time. In the fall we did preseason a lot this year. I’m in charge of getting my kids in the offseason. My wife is a principal so I get the kids every day which I like doing. I’ve got a big property where I live, I’ve got six acres I’ve got to take care of, so yard work, like a lot of yard work. In the summer I do get to get up to my cabin and go fishing. Besides that, wrestling runs my life and it has since, gosh, I want to say about the fourth grade.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
Bertelsman: I’m a big gardener. I actually teach botany at Huntley, used to teach horticulture. But I love trees, since I bought my property I’ve probably planted 30-plus trees. I just like seeing something grow from nothing. My wife is getting better at it, my kids love doing it, my kids love eating out of the garden. In the summer we hardly buy any vegetables at all. It’s a win-win. I enjoy gardening. I don’t know if you’d call me avid but I get pretty serious when I walk into a garden store. I love Hostas, they’re my favorite plant.