By Pilar Sanchez Barrio
Cooper Collings earned a spot in Mattoon wrestling history in 2009 as he became the city’s first Illinois Elementary School Association state champion. But, as happens with all champions, he didn’t get it overnight.
Wrestling entered Collings’ life when he was 7 years old. He and his brother Cayden used to “wrestle” around the house until one day their dad, Jeff Collings, told them: “If you are going to wrestle, you are going to learn how to do it correctly.”
Cooper Collings soon found a passion that is still intact.
Those who know Cooper define him as a hard worker, a wrestler who puts a lot of time and effort into what he wants to achieve, someone who is quiet and has clear ideas.
“He knew what his goals were, and he worked really hard to go out and accomplish them” said his Mattoon Middle School coach Pete Stanley. “They said he would go home after practice and do two hundred push-ups every night.”
And that’s how Cooper Collings began his first year as a middle school wrestler, working hard and hoping to improve. He qualified for state and won it the following year.
“I remember he was really dominant,” Stanley said. “I think the only points he gave up in the entire tournament were escapes when he let the guys up.”
And, in that way, conceding only two points during regionals, sectionals and state, he qualified for the IESA 70-pound state final.
“I remember that I was probably more nervous than him,” said Ron Bateman, his coach at the time. “It was my first experience with a wrestler in the finals, and I walked with him in the Grand March. I was so excited for him.”
In that final, Collings defeated Branden Peshek from Johnsburg High, 4-1, to become the first state champion in Mattoon school history. Previously, Mattoon boasted mostly Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation champs.
“Cooper was not only a great wrestler that worked hard,” Bateman said, “he was very smart and stayed in a good position and didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
At the time, Cooper says he was unaware of the historic aspects of his win.
He just raced over to hug his mother and father.
“I am excited for the first high school state champion and for that to be considered the wrestling Mattoon history accomplishment,” Cooper said. “I think it will happen soon.”
Devin Patterson and Trevor Edwards helped him holding summer practices and extra practices during the season. And his father woke up at 5 a.m. to take him to the YMCA for workouts.
“I wanted to provide an opportunity for those men and the Mattoon wrestling program as a whole to achieve levels that had not been achieved,” Patterson said. “Any time I was in the practice room with Cooper, I could see the amount of work he would apply to getting better. I can say that I have no doubts that the hard work and dedication is something he has and will continue to apply to all aspects of his life.”
Collings also credits his other coaches, among them Mike Bonic, Brian Daniels, Gary Branson, Marcus McDowell and MHS coach Brett Porter. “They taught me what hard work looks like and what I can accomplish,” Cooper Collings said. “I would not have had the success in wrestling or in life that I have had without these coaches.”
“The Mattoon wrestling program has had so much success because it truly takes a village. Successful programs are not generated over night, but with years and years of selfless dedication.” Davin Patterson, said. “Our village consists of many coaches and parents that have given a large portion of their lives to helping Mattoon wrestling grow.”
Said MHS coach Brett Porter: “Mattoon wrestling has always been a pretty strong program, one of the keys for the success is that the whole program is one –– from club to middle school to high school –– we work together.”