The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
Bay documentary to honor coaching career of his father
By Sandy Stevens
Rick Bay’s own resume is impressive: three-time Illinois state wrestling champion, NCAA All-American for the University of Michigan; head coach of the Wolverines; president of the United States Wrestling Federation and Man of the Year; athletic director at Oregon, Ohio State, Minnesota and San Diego State; Major League executive for the Yankees and Indians.
Now 75, Rick has also written three memoirs. But while he was beginning the second, he realized, ‘Heck, my dad had a life more interesting and dramatic than that!’”
Oscar “Ott” Bay certainly did. And now his son is working to produce a documentary on his dad.
What makes Ott Bay’s story so compelling? To begin with, he never wrestled competitively or even coached the sport until he arrived at Waukegan (Ill.) High School in 1950. Over the next 17 years, until his premature death at 47, his teams went 236-49-8, winning 105 of his final 108 dual meets and capturing four state championships, placing second three times and fourth four times.
Ott coached 28 individual state champions, including at least one winner in each of his last 13 years.
Adding drama to this unlikely story is that among his stable of state champions were his three sons: first Rick (1959, 1960, 1961) and then Steve (1963).
“However, as my youngest brother Mike was poised to become the third to complete my father’s dream, Dad became seriously ill with a brain tumor,” Rick said. “No one believed he could persevere long enough to see Mike win.”
In early 1966, Ott’s surgeon gave him three months to live. Shortly after, Mike suffered an upset loss as a junior in the semifinals of the state tournament.
Mike’s final opportunity was 12 months away.
“Dad rallied,” Rick said. “The surgery had robbed him of his ability to speak and his short-term memory, and my stepmother used flashcards at home to help him partially regain these functions.
“Blessed with two great assistant coaches in Larry TenPas and Jim Krumplestaedter to handle the heavy lifting of the most active coaching duties, Dad hung on through the 1967 season to see both Mike win the individual state title and his undefeated Bulldog powerhouse squad run away with the team title, Waukegan’s fourth.”
Less than three months later, Ott died.
Despite his brief career, he was a charter member of the Illinois Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame and the Illinois chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Ott’s life has stayed pretty much unheralded until now, but after enjoying many inspirational stories about athletes and coaches overcoming obstacles, Rick realized his dad’s story needed to be told.
Over the past year, Rick and professional screenwriter Tom Swanston of London, England, have been working to produce a television documentary. Included will be how Ott, who’d been coaching football in small towns around Champaign-Urbana while getting his master’s degree at the University of Illinois, learned about wrestling
“He began applying for a job in northern Illinois,” Rick said. “Waukegan offered him a job — if he would coach wrestling.
“High school wrestling was a growing sport in the Chicago area, especially in the Suburban League, where Waukegan was the only school without a team.”
Worried about distracting himself from football, not to mention his unfamiliarity with wrestling, Ott at first declined. A couple of days later, intrigued by the challenge, he took on the challenge, Rick said.
“He read Cliff Keen’s book on fundamentals, and he began to contact top Illinois coaches. They just adopted him, even though some were competitors, because they wanted wrestling to grow and prosper in northern Illinois.”
It certainly prospered in the blue-collar community of Waukegan.
“Some years, 150 kids were out for wrestling,” Rick said. “We had varsity, junior varsity, sophomore and freshman A and B teams, and one year all went undefeated.”
Mike Bay recalled, “My dad started an elementary and junior high school wrestling program in the city to get kids introduced to the sport at an early age. He organized wrestling tournaments for kids starting at 5th grade through 8th grade. I don’t recall any schools throughout the area that were doing the same thing.”
As a fifth-grader, Rick began going to practice with his dad. “I started rolling around with the team, and kind of became their mascot,” he said.
Because Ott was so young when he died, it wasn’t until his sons were older that they realized how legendary their dad was.
“We knew he was a great coach, but the stats just eventually sunk in,” Rick said. “Since starting work on this project, my brothers and I have received some poignant written testimonies and remembrances from former wrestlers.”
In mid-July, Rick and nearly a dozen other state champions Ott coached met for interviews at the Waukegan gym, where photos and trophies from Ott’s tenure remain.
Rick has also gained rare footage from the Illinois High School Association of two of his three state title matches and one brother’s two championship finals.
Filming for ‘OTT’ has already begun, Rick said, “We have edited a short ‘sizzle reel,’ which is viewable on the crowd-funding campaign page https://igg.me/at/ott/x/12483363.”
To support the film and get lots of rewards, such as tickets to the premiere, a copy of the film or even a Producer credit, follow the link and become a backer,” he said. “The campaign ends on Nov. 16, so move quickly to become a part of movie-making magic and help to etch Ott Bay’s name into history by sharing his story with the world.
“Although most certainly a wrestling story,” Rick declared, “the documentary is equally a narrative of the human spirit.”