Passion opens door for Dolly
A single decision made by Tom Dolly
more than three decades ago not only changed his
life, but the lives of thousands of others.
In the mid-70s, Tom
certainly wasn't the "Big Man on Campus" as a sophomore at Riley High School
stood just over 5-feet tall, weighed about as much as full-grown Rottweiller and was in desperate need of finding an extracurricular activity in order to keep him on the straight-and-narrow.
Tom saw trouble all around him, saw the writing on the wall and decided his
only opportunity to play a sport, due to his
size, was on the wrestling team.His
time on the team would prove to be a life-changing experience.
"I wasn't very good at anything else, so I decided to go out for wrestling," said Tom
, who competed in the 105-, 112- and 119-weight classes during his
three years on the squad.
took that knowledge and began looking for a way to get into the coaching ranks.He
persuaded Rev. Daryl Rybicki to let him become the wrestling coach at St. Matthew School
.Although it was just an entry-level position, he
was finally officially a part of the wrestling community.
A few years later he
ran into Rybicki again but this time Rybicki had an offer for him: Head wrestling coach at Marian High School
jumped on the opportunity and took the job.
Trying to be competitive was far from Tom's biggest worry when he
first arrived as the Knights'
first few years in the late '80s and early '90s, his
biggest problem was finding enough wrestlers to compete against other teams.
"We had some bad seasons," said Tom
"I had three little boys at an age they couldn't participate in wrestling anywhere, so I decided to start a freestyle club," said Tom
."We were hurting for numbers at Marian
, so I thought it would be a good future base for us too."
In 1989, Dolly
officially started his
wrestling club out of Marian's gym with seven kids and a goal that one day it would become successful.
It didn't take long.When he left Marian after eight years, he had 45 kids on the high school team and 60 in his freestyle program.
Since then he's
moved the Michiana Wrestling Academy
from Adams High School
, to Mishawaka High School
, to a small building in Mishawaka
and finally coming full-circle.Today the MWA
is again at Marian
back where he
started, the club certainly isn't.
It's become so large that his
wife, Eva, runs the business side of the MWA
, while his
three sons help out coaching.It runs from November to June, practices are held two to three nights a week with grapplers coming in from nearly every city in St. Joseph, Elkhart and even as far as Marshall County.He
has 115 kids from 4-19 years old, has helped mold dozens of IHSAA and club state champions, several national qualifiers, sent kids to college with wrestling scholarships and has become one of the area's premier experts on the sport.
told me what we should do, we followed it and it worked.I highly recommend the Michiana Wrestling Academy.It does work."
With the growth of the MWA
sights set on getting out of the Marian gym and into his
own permanent address."Eventually we'll probably move one more time," said Tom, 46, who works for the City of Mishawaka, part-time for the University of Notre Dame and has been on the board of directors of the Indiana State Wrestling Association since 1987.
"My goal is to have my own building.But so far this whole thing has been a huge success.Huge," he
doesn't expect to get back into high school coaching.He
spends too much time with the club and is enjoying watching his
other two sons, Dez and Benji, wrestle -- something he
never experienced as a kid.
"When I was on the wrestling team at Riley
it became a brotherhood for me," said Tom
has finally reached big-man status.