Jeff Owens interviewed Mattoon Youth Wrestling coach and advocate Mike Bonic on all things wrestling. Bonic will be inducted into the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation Hall Of Fame on March 12 in Rockford. This Sunday in Mattoon, Bonic and the Mattoon Youth Wrestling Club will host the IKWF regional tournament in Mattoon. This also comes on the heels of one of the best finishes ever by the wrestling Mattoon, who for the first time ever had three wrestlers place in the IHSA state tourney.

CCS: What’s the state of wrestling in Mattoon?

Bonic: Truthfully, it’s probably never been better. And that’s at all levels. Head coach Brett Porter and Devin Patterson have helped bring the high school program to unprecedented success, especially the last few years. We lost Mike Stanley at the middle school to take the Charleston High School coaching position, but Trevor Edwards took over, and they haven’t missed a beat. Stephen Stanley and Travis Howell are also doing a fantastic job at the kids club level. Our K-5 group has a bunch of tough little guys. Gonna be fun to watch as they develop.

CCS: Your dad helped start the MYWC in the 1970s. What do you remember from that time?

Bonic: I remember his passion for the sport and, despite how hard he worked us, he’d also make it fun. Obviously, he was a big influence on me.

CCS: You are getting inducted into the IKWF Hall of Fame. How does that feel?

Bonic: It feels pretty cool. Quite an honor. Also means I’m old.

CCS: Your dad John Bonic is also in the Hall of Fame. Talk about that.

Bonic: Yes, he was inducted several years ago. Besides founding the MYWC, he helped a lot of clubs in Central Illinois get started back in the 70’s when the IKWF was just getting going.

CCS: When you saw three Mattoon wrestlers place in state, what was going through your mind?

Bonic: It actually hit me Thursday night watching five Green Wave wrestlers in the quarterfinals. Awesome stuff, I’m up there watching every year, but it’s a lot better when Mattoon has not just one or two but several guys competing. So proud of these guys.

CCS: Tell us the details of this weekend’s IKWF regional in Mattoon.

Bonic: We’re hosting the IKWF Regional this Sunday at MHS. There will be 18 teams and about 300 wrestlers from Central Illinois competing in five different age groups. Starting at 5-6 years of age up to 13-14. Kids in the 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 divisions can advance to a sectional meet next weekend in Champaign with a chance to qualify for the state finals in Rockford the following weekend.

CCS: The Bonic name is synonymous with wrestling. Talk about your wrestling family.

Bonic: Well, it’s just a sport almost all Bonic boys have done with pretty good success not only on the mat but coaching as well. My nephew, Seth, was definitely the best, though. He won a couple IKWF state titles for NL Providence Little Celtics and a couple IHSA State medals. My dad coached, of course, and so did my brother Tony and my uncle Marty.

CCS: What are a couple of highlights from your time with the MYWC?

Bonic: Well, definitely my first IKWF state champion Pete Stanley in 1987 and then another when Mike French won it in 1989. Then taking fourth place as a team in 1993 is also up there. We didn’t have a finalist but had six kids medal.

CCS: Building and maintaining a successful youth program, how tough is it?

Bonic: It takes a lot of work and commitment from a lot of people. Very proud we’ve been able to sustain the success through the years. I’ve taken a step back the last couple years, but, like I said, Stephen and Travis along with other coaches and board members put in a lot of time to keep it going.

CCS: Mike, congrats on all of your success, anything else you want to tell our readers?

Bonic: Thanks, love the sport and what it teaches young kids. To quote the great Dan Gable: “Once you’ve wrestled, everything in life is easy.”