Illinois high school is bringing back dormant program

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Updated: January 24, 2023

Photo: The St. Eds wrestling team of Elgin, Ill., is forced to practice in the school’s Senior Lounge. (St. Eds High photo)

By Sandy Stevens

How determined is 30-year-old Shane Finnane to defy the challenges and head up a resurrection of wrestling at his alma mater, St. Edward Central Catholic High School in Elgin, Ill.? 

Consider:

1. The program has been dormant for a decade, dropped after the 2012 season when Shane’s younger brother Evan, then a senior, competed.  

“In the 1990s, St. Ed had full teams, but when my brother and I wrestled, only about half the weight classes were filled,” said Shane, who wrestled heavyweight, as did his brother.

2. St. Ed’s coed population, at about 400 students when the Finnanes competed, has dropped to around 220. Although 23 boys showed up for the initial meeting, 14 now make up the wrestling club. “There isn’t a group that’s much greener than what we have now,” said Shane “But they’re learning and they’re enjoying it.”

3. Wrestlers must practice in the “Senior Lounge” part of the cafeteria (initially even the locker room was considered).

4. Shane, who serves as an assistant wrestling coach for the school, takes over as St. Ed head football coach in the fall.

5. And, finally, Shane, who was ranked as high his senior year as seventh in the state until derailed by injuries, declares, “I’m a guy who didn’t like the sport.” 

Shane Finnan

Then why does this former West Point football player and civil engineering grad — who holds a master’s in civil engineering from the University of Illinois and is now the director of innovation for a construction general contractor — care about reviving the wrestling program?

“One, it’s simply a numbers game,” Shane said. “At a school our size, you need kids to play multiple sports and some are not coming to St. Ed because there’s no wrestling. From a wrestling perspective, St. Ed gives an opportunity for wrestling that other schools do not.

“Second, I benefitted from it from an athletic perspective. Wrestling taught me a lot about mental toughness, resilience and perseverance. It’s ‘You vs. You’ most of the time. I learned more about what my body and mind were capable of from that sport than anything I had done to that point.”

Those thoughts first surfaced while Shane and his brother Evan, who was also a St. Ed heavyweight, Army football player and West Point graduate, were talking through the benefits they gained from wrestling, both on and off the football field. 

“The lightbulb went off in my head as I realized I needed to rebuild the St. Edward wrestling program to not only benefit the football players but all the other sports at St. Edward and to give a home to those that might not have a sport,” Shane recalled.

Nathan Negron

The St. Edward wrestling program has already made huge strides, Shane said, thanks to the efforts of head coach Nathan Negron, a St. Ed English teacher, and assistant coach Roy Pena, who mentored the Finnane brothers.

Also critical, Shane said, has been the support of donors and supporters like Father Robert Blood, St. Ed assistant principal; John Duffy, whose four children attended St. Edward and was a mentor to the wrestling team and Joe Cerny, a current Highland Red Raiders feeder wrestling coach and St. Ed alum who is working to raise funds for new singlets and mats.

Roy Pena

The coaches also discovered that Pena’s brother Ronnie (44-0 his senior year at heavyweight) had kept the old mats rolled up in his basement and they found the old green and gold Green Wave’s singlets and warmups in a plastic bin in a locked closet. 

And the word “wrestling” now shows up in the official listing of St. Ed sports.

 “These efforts and the support have brought the program back to life,” Shane said. “We’re very lucky our alumni are what they are.”

As for his primary role, Shane said, “I’ve always wanted to coach, to give back what I was given. I see myself as a change catalyst for the school, and I’ve tried to build it around the St. Ed wrestling community. My purpose in life is that any person or place I encounter, I want to make better than I found it. It’s all about giving those opportunities; that’s what it means to me.”

Shane didn’t wrestle until he was a sophomore; instead, he played football and studied and taught Taekwondo instead. 

“But I am eternally grateful my father (Jim Finnane, former Glenbard South High School and Loras College wrestler) pushed my brother and me into the sport,” he declared. “Wrestling is an invaluable character builder and physical-development tool, and it consistently produces men and women who have more grit and mental toughness than most.”

While the St. Ed team is now a school club, the coaches and wrestlers hope to transition to an IHSA competitive sport in the very near future. 

“We’re not shiny; we’re a piece of coal,” Shane said. “You just need to find a place to do it and have the opportunity to do it and the willingness to put the work in. The path to success isn’t always a straight line, and it typically happens because of the small failures we experience along the way. 

  “The resurgence of the wrestling program at St. Edward and its past, current, and future wrestlers are an example of this perseverance and resolve: the greatest lesson wrestling has taught so many.”

(Sandy Stevens is a long-time public address announcer of national and international events and was named to the National Hall of Fame in 1998.)  

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